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Controversial Police K-9 Attacks Spark National Debate on Use of Force

A patrolman and a police dog go after a Black man who swings at the dog with a small knife during racial demonstrations in Birmingham, Ala., on May 3, 1963. For some, the scene of a trucker being attacked by a police dog on a rural Ohio highway in July hearkens back to the Civil Rights Movement.

The recent surge of controversial police K-9 attacks in the United States has ignited a nationwide debate about the use of force by law enforcement officers. These incidents have garnered attention and raised concerns regarding the potentially excessive and dangerous application of K-9 units, particularly against Black individuals. This debate harkens back to the Civil Rights Movement, echoing a history of authorities deploying dogs against peaceful Black protesters fighting for equal rights.

One haunting example of such an attack can be traced back to a photograph captured by The Associated Press in Birmingham, Alabama, during the spring of 1963. The image depicts two police officers commanding two K-9s to attack 15-year-old Walter Gadsden, with one of the dogs lunging toward the teenager’s midsection.

Over the past five years, the United States has witnessed several high-profile cases involving controversial police K-9 attacks:

  • In 2018, records reviewed by the AP revealed that the Ohio State Highway Patrol used drug dogs in 28% of its interactions with Black motorists from 2013 to 2017, despite the Black population accounting for approximately 11.5% of eligible drivers in the state.
  • In 2020, the Salt Lake City police department suspended its dog apprehension program after a Black man was bitten, and an audit uncovered 27 dog bite cases in the preceding two years.
  • The FBI initiated an investigation into the Woodson Terrace, Missouri, police department in 2021 after cell phone footage showed three officers allowing a police dog to repeatedly attack a Black man.
  • In the same year, a Black man in Lafayette, Indiana, was placed in a medically induced coma following a police K-9 attack during his arrest in a battery case.

Circleville, a typical rural town located about 25 miles south of Columbus, Ohio, has recently come under scrutiny for its use of police K-9 units. The town, with its picturesque downtown, embodies the essence of many rural communities across the nation. However, a stark divide exists between the experiences of Black and white residents, reflecting underlying issues of bigotry and racism.

The recent video of Rose’s arrest in Circleville has further exposed the deep-seated concerns within the community. While the congregation at the Second Baptist Church was horrified and angered by the video, they couldn’t help but feel that this incident was yet another example of a recurring problem.

This is not the first time that Circleville has faced questions about the training and use of police dogs. Almost two decades ago, the founder of the K-9 unit, Officer David Haynes, sued the department after he was terminated for insubordination. Haynes had publicly opposed the reduction of training hours for K-9 units, warning that it might lead to issues of “deliberate indifference,” “negligence,” and “failure to train.”

Today, the K-9 units in Circleville receive 192 hours of training per year, which equates to 16 hours per month. Police Chief Shawn Baer has not responded to requests for comment.

The use of dogs as a means of control can be traced back to European settlers in the Americas, who employed them against Indigenous populations. In the Southern U.S., they were introduced to capture or even kill enslaved Black individuals who escaped.

Madalyn Wasilczuk, a professor at the University of South Carolina and author of a law journal article on police K-9 force, emphasizes that dogs are often deployed in nonviolent situations, which can lead to severe injuries. The term “bite and hold” may sound clinical, but when seen in videos, it reveals the ferocity of a dog’s attack, including biting and trying to hold on with its teeth deeply embedded.

In the case of Rose, law enforcement initially attempted to pull him over due to a missing mudflap on his truck. Dashcam footage showed officers with their guns drawn. Following a second stop, Rose called 911, expressing fear that the officers were trying to kill him. He was initially charged with a felony for not complying with officers, but prosecutors later dropped the case, replacing it with a misdemeanor charge.

Rose was subsequently hospitalized for the injuries sustained during the K-9 attack. Whether he suffered any lasting harm remains uncertain. The police handler of the dog, Officer Ryan Speakman, was terminated, and the Ohio Patrolman’s Benevolent Association filed a grievance on his behalf, contesting his dismissal.

The circumstances surrounding Rose’s arrest have yet to be fully explained, leaving the community waiting for answers.

For those advocating for improved race relations in Ohio, the K-9 attack was a stark reminder of the work that still needs to be done. Nana Jones, president of the Columbus Chapter of the NAACP, drew attention to the potential difference in community response had the victim been white, emphasizing the need for equal treatment under the law.

The ongoing debate surrounding police K-9 attacks underscores the urgency of reevaluating the use of force and ensuring the safety and well-being of all citizens, regardless of their racial or ethnic backgrounds.



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