From now on, the public will not be allowed to pet police dogs during demonstrations. Nor will the dogs show how they search areas.
The Gainesville Police Department announced those changes on Nov. 23, during a meeting of the Gainesville Public Safety Committee. They were made in the wake of concerns about police dog demonstrations, after one of the dogs bit an 8-year-old boy during a demonstration at Rawlings Elementary School last May, said Sgt. Brad Litchfield, supervisor for GPD’s K-9 unit.
As a result, the safety committee requested a review of police dog policies, deployment and training.
Litchfield said the petting sessions and area searches have been eliminated, so that the dogs are never looking for a suspect during a demonstration. Dogs must also be on a leash, and a safety officer must be present during the entire demonstration, he said.
The senior handler on scene must also decide if the audience size and environment is manageable for the demonstration, Litchfield said.
“We’re out there in the public, you know, hundreds of times a year doing hundreds of demos and hopefully conveying a message that the dogs are out there. They’re excellent tools,” Litchfield said. “They’re good for our officers, and they’re good for the citizens out there.”
Gainesville Commissioner Helen Warren said that she feels GPD’s K-9 unit has considered all angles to make sure that public safety is maintained in the new policies.
“While that might happen one time [police dog bites], 99 other things that that dog does during the year are really important,” she said.
Robert Rush, a Gainesville accident attorney who has worked on previous GPD K-9 cases, said that dogs are great for tracking and finding people, but they are being used as weapons and should not be taught to attack people.
GPD needs to use the dogs in more limited situations and take advantage of the dog’s tracking ability so police officers can pursue the suspect themselves, Rush said.
“Once that dog is released on somebody, it has a mind of its own and can inflict an awful lot of damage on a person–much more than the officer intended,” he said.