K-9 Catch-22:The Impossible Dilemma Of Using Police Dogs In Apprehension Of Suspects

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In the past several years, the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania has seen two canine police dogs (K-9s) killed in the line of duty, Rocco in January 2014, and Aren in January of 2016. Both were killed by stab wounds while attempting to apprehend suspects. The man who killed Rocco received significant jail time for stabbing and killing the dog, while the man who killed Aren was fatally shot as a direct result of his actions toward the canine. While Rocco was vocally celebrated in the community, and sympathy primarily focused on the canine, the deaths of Aren and the suspect who killed him, Brian Kelley, Jr., led to a very different response. In the aftermath of the 2016 incident, there was significant vocal outcry from a variety of advocates (for both humans and animals) concerning the injustice of using K-9 officers to apprehend suspects and calling for a ban on such practices. Certainly, Pittsburgh’s experiences are not unique, although they present a vivid backdrop for the discussion of whether K-9s should be used for apprehension of suspects and under what circumstances.

This Article explores the legal and ethical questions surrounding the use of police dogs, specifically in the realm of apprehending suspects where a violent interaction between human and canine is inevitable. The Fourth Amendment allows the use of canine force against persons if “reasonable” under the totality of the circumstances, based on the officer’s observations. However, that totality of circumstances does not take into account the very real and very reasonable fear response induced in humans by an animal attack, that in some cases compels the suspect to defend themselves and thus places the suspect at risk for further violence, and the police dog at risk for injury or death. Further, while any suspect may be compelled to resist or defend itself against a police dog, the historical use of police dogs against African Americans, coupled with the deployment of police dogs more frequently in minority communities, may tend to put African Americans at greater risk in this “K-9 catch-22.” Ultimately, this Article considers the question of whether, in light of human behavioral fear response to animal attacks coupled with examples of implicit racial bias, using police dogs in apprehension is ever truly “reasonable.”