Palm Springs Police Chief Andy Mills is speaking out against a new proposed California state law that would ban the use of police dogs in making arrests. If passed, Assembly Bill 742 would prohibit the use of K-9s for apprehending people.
Chief Mills argues that K-9s are a vital tool for getting suspects to surrender, and the unintended consequence of this new legislation could be increased police use of force. "Just their mere presence alone and the ability to carry through with a bite if we absolutely need to - will make people throw down their guns," he said.
Proponents of the bill cite data showing that in California, police dogs seriously injured 186 people in the last two years, more than batons or tasers. The bill also claims that people of color, who make up 65% of Californians that were seriously injured by canines in 2021, are disproportionately affected.
However, Chief Mills said those claims don't hold up in Palm Springs. In Palm Springs in the last five years, K-9s were deployed 1,437 times. Mills said five people were bitten in that period, with the majority of them being white men.
Palm Springs police dog Ike, who was shot by a suspect in 2011, died protecting an officer.
"Ike's wounds were fatal. The officers returned fire and they dealt with the suspect, but Ike probably saved his handlers life that night," said Ronnie Jones, a PSPD K-9 officer.
Palm Springs Police Department restricts the use of K-9s to violent crimes only. He argues that K-9s are a use of less lethal force that can prevent officers from having to use their weapons.
"There will be more officer-involved shootings, because officers run out of options," Mills said. "This is a very important tool for us to use to disarm and deescalate these these violent encounters."
K-9 Officer David Etchason said it happened as recently as Tuesday, when a suspected gunman in a shooting at a Palm Springs gas station surrendered as soon as police announced a K-9 was there. "He told me afterwards that he knew the dog was going to come and he didn't want to get bit so that's why he surrendered," Etchason said.
The bill was proposed by Assemblymember Corey Jackson, who represents parts of western Riverside County. It was approved last week by the California Assembly Public Safety Committee with a 6-2 vote and now heads to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.