This week, the Massachusetts House Ways and Means Committee released HB 4860, which seeks to enact law enforcement reforms. 217 amendments to the bill have also been filed for consideration, including several impacting police K-9 practices.
In addition to creating certification training and standards for law enforcement, HB 4860 would:
- Require reports of “officer-related injuries or death”, which are defined as “any event during which an officer…(vi) attacks a person using a dog, actually or proximately causing injury or death of another;”
- Authorize the release of a dog to control or influence a person’s behavior, only if de-escalation tactics have been attempted and failed; and the dog’s release is necessary to prevent imminent harm to the officer and the foreseeable harm to the suspect in releasing the dog is proportionate to the imminent harm the officer will experience. HB 4860 specifically excludes fear of imminent harm as an acceptable rationale for the release of a police K-9.
Police K-9s serve a variety of functions, including search and rescue; bomb, arson and drug detection; and suspect apprehension. When probable cause exists to believe that a person hiding in building has committed a crime in which assaultive behavior was used or threatened to be used, officers may employ a police K-9 to effect the lawful arrest of the suspect. This is an appropriate and customary use for a police K-9, even if the officer does not have knowledge of imminent harm at the time the dog is released (as HB 4860 would require). Moreover, the mere presence of a police K-9 often results in a suspect’s surrender or the holding and control of a suspect for safe apprehension by an officer.
Use of a police K-9 may result in a non-serious injury, like scratches or marks. Required reporting of all injuries by a police K-9, instead of only serious injuries, may result in frivolous complaints and sanctions against law enforcement K-9 handlers.
Police K-9s are an invaluable alternative to use of force tools such as tasers, tear gas, or other chemical weapons used to apprehend a suspect that unlike other methods, can be immediately recalled.
Multiple amendments have been filed for consideration during the bill’s debate on Wednesday, July 22, 2020, which support police K-9 emergency treatment and transport when injured in the line of duty and seek to ensure their continued and appropriate use without detriment to their officer/handlers.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Massachusetts residents are encouraged to immediately email their state representative to express their support for the continued utilization of police K-9s by trained law enforcement handlers without requiring inappropriate reporting or use restrictions. Find your state representative’s contact information by searching with your address here.
AKC Government Relations (AKC GR) will continue to provide updates on this legislation. For more information, contact AKC GR at firstname.lastname@example.org.