HomeCrimeCity commission postpones decision on K-9 unit
City commission postpones decision on K-9 unit
November 17, 2022
BY JENNIFER CABRERA
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The Gainesville City Commission held a Special Meeting on November 16 to discuss the use of K-9 teams in the Gainesville Police Department (GPD). Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos was absent due to a family emergency; Commissioner Reina Saco was there for about an hour and a half (the reason for her absence after that point was not provided); and Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut missed about an hour starting at 6:00, due to a previous commitment. The meeting went nearly five hours.
Information and statistics on the use of K-9 units
GPD led off with a presentation, stating that K-9 units are used for officer safety: K-9s assist officers in searching for suspects, and the presence of police dogs can also lead to de-escalation once the suspect knows there is a K-9 present. K-9 units can also help locate missing persons.
K-9 units can be used for misdemeanor and felony tracks, but a shorter leash is normally used for misdemeanor tracks, and handlers use precautions to avoid physically apprehending suspects with the K-9. However, if a suspect escalates resistance or if the crime is violent, a longer leash can be used, and the dog may physically apprehend suspects. Longer leashes are used for tracking felony suspects, which allows the handler to track at a safer distance. Courts have held that verbal warnings are not needed when tracking a suspect that has fled on foot because that reveals the officer’s location.
Intentional apprehension with a K-9 is only used for specific violent or forcible felonies, including arson and burglary; they can sometimes be used for violent misdemeanors. GPD presented a list of the crime types for apprehensions in 2020, 2021, and 2022:
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GPD’s bite ratio (bites to apprehensions) has been 9.8%-10% in the past three years. Experts say that any bite ratio below 30% is “well within the acceptable standards.”
GPD also provided a demographic breakdown of the bites in 2020-2022:
In 2022, GPD has responded to 83,864 calls for service, and only 11 led to bites. Every bite goes through a four-level process from the unit sergeant to the lieutenant to the captain of the bureau, then to Internal Affairs. Incidents are scrutinized to make sure policies and guidelines were followed.
Gainesville Police Department Chief Lonnie Scott said that in Florida, 95 agencies serve areas with population of 50,000 or more, and every one of them has a K-9 unit.
The V2 Global report
Ray Martinez from V2 Global spoke about their review of the Terrell Bradley apprehension, concluding that “At each decision point that started with the traffic stop, the Gainesville Police Department in essence followed their procedural protocol and made the appropriate decision.”
Greg Terp from V2 Global added, “I truly believe that K-9s are a great tool for any law enforcement officer and department, but even more so for that community, to catch some of the people we need to catch, that are dangerous to the community, but they also need to be held to accountability, and I know that’s why you’re here today… When you look at the video, I didn’t see any malfeasance, I didn’t see anything nefarious… [The injury to Mr. Bradley] is, as you saw on the video, something that appeared to me to be an unintended bite, or… accidental bite.”
“I would hate to have any officer or citizen killed because we did not have [a K-9] on scene.” – GPD Chief Lonnie Scott
Chief Scott added, “Any time we use a K-9 for apprehension, it is a response to resistance, what used to be called ‘use of force.’ We’re responding to the behavior of the person that we’re trying to gain control of… Any time we use force in response to resistance, there’s a potential for someone to be injured.” Scott said that the suspect’s resistance always leads to the potential that a dog, officer, or suspect may be injured. He said dogs are typically used for apprehensions in cases of violent crimes or in-progress burglaries and arson. He added that in those cases, “We want to make sure that we are meeting that subject with enough force to get compliance… I would hate to have any officer or citizen killed because we did not have [a K-9] on scene.”
Mayor Lauren Poe said the question “rattling around in [his] head” was “What is the alternative?”
Commissioner Duncan-Walker’s presentation
Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker, who requested the meeting, thanked GPD for their presentation but said, “Tonight is about the people” and that the conversation had been one-sided up to that point. “This is not solely about Terrell Bradley tonight, but what happened to him gives us the opportunity to open a dialogue that we simply must have about how we police this community, how we consider alternatives, how we ensure accountability, transparency, equity, and fairness, and how we move not just the K-9 unit forward but how we move the Gainesville Police Department forward.”
After the videos, she said, “Now I want to be clear: I want the officers in the Gainesville Police Department to be able to safely do your jobs, but… I believe it is important for us to consider the alternatives. The stakes are high. It is important that in our quest to provide public safety, we do that as best we can.”
“It is not lost on me how dogs have been used over many, many years in the communities of African Americans. It is not lost on me how dogs were used to apprehend those who were enslaved; it is not lost on me how, coming down through the Civil Rights Movement, dogs were used against those who marched peacefully; it is not lost on me how dogs have been used recently in peaceful protests” – Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker
Duncan-Walker said that investigations into the Bradley apprehension concluded that policies were followed, “but just because it’s legal doesn’t make it right… You don’t have to be fleeing to have this kind of negative experience.” She said she hoped they could have “a very robust conversation about how we can police our neighbors in the safest way, in a way that is fairest. It is not lost on me how dogs have been used over many, many years in the communities of African Americans. It is not lost on me how dogs were used to apprehend those who were enslaved; it is not lost on me how, coming down through the Civil Rights Movement, dogs were used against those who marched peacefully; it is not lost on me how dogs have been used recently in peaceful protests… Where is the balance? How do we provide safety for our officers but also safety for the citizens of Gainesville?”
During public comment, Sheila Payne of Alachua County Labor Coalition called the GPD video “highly stylized,” saying it “included character assassination of Terrell Bradley” and that Bradley’s arrest was “racially profiled.”
Wayne Fields suggested requiring that the dogs be muzzled so they could only be used to smell while searching.
Evelyn Foxx of the NAACP Alachua County Branch asked the commission to “come up with another method and perhaps another kind of dog, but we don’t need a dog like that attacking our neighbors in Gainesville.”
Larry Seale, who said he had experience as a K-9 handler in the police department, said, “The two dogs that she showed in that video were not police dogs from the Gainesville Police Department, and if they were, those dogs would not be allowed to work the street. I think what’s missing here… is the amount of training hours these dogs go through to be trained… The reality is, in today’s environment, police officers are under attack… You guys know there’s a major crime problem in this city. You know the police department is well-understaffed, and my question to anybody is, what are we doing about that? What happened to Mr. Bradley was absolutely horrific. I get it. Nobody’s here trying to justify his injury… But when you show videos that taint the well… it gives a presentation that police dogs are out of control, and it’s not fair… to police departments that put a lot of time and effort into it.” Seale said that the police need dogs to track suspects that have fled the scene of a crime and reminded the commission that the helicopter unit and bike unit were previously disbanded.
A former GPD K-9 officer said his dogs never bit anyone over 12 years until a suspect came out and shot at an officer: “My dog attacked his gun hand, wrestled the gun, and the guy pulled another gun out of his pocket and shot my dog point-blank in the chest. Then he came up to me—I was about 8 feet away—and pointed a gun at me, and before he could fire, my dog charged him again, and he again shot my dog. There’s some bad people out here.”
Fareed Johnson, a member of the Police Advisory Council, said GPD has many vacancies, and he asked Chief Scott and Interim City Manager Cynthia Curry to use those funds to address violent crime. He continued, “Our crime rate right now in Gainesville is above both the state and national averages.”
Several people who spoke during public comment were concerned by the high number of bites on black men, relative to other races.
Kali Blount said of police officers, “You guys want to see somebody chewed up. We’ve got to face what we’re seeing.”
“We have 12 people that were mauled by police dogs in 2022… 12 black people, we make up 20% of the population. In order to account for us in the population, 46 white people would need to be mauled by police officers [to make it] not racist. It’s disgusting.” – Chanae Jackson
Mayor Poe gaveled the meeting into a recess after Chanae Jackson refused to relinquish the podium when her three minutes were up. Prior to being cut off, she said she was angry and frustrated: “What the officers did by filling up this gallery was purposeful; it’s the stuff they do all the time to minimize our voice… The people who got up tonight and spoke are the experts, not because we’re the experts in the community, because we’re actually the experts who do the work and do the research they all refuse to do… For somebody to give a presentation about a police dog that was killed in 1986, we have 12 people that were mauled by police dogs in 2022… 12 black people, we make up 20% of the population. In order to account for us in the population, 46 white people would need to be mauled by police officers [to make it] not racist. It’s disgusting.”
“I hear the horrible things that you think we are, and we understand that, but I can promise you one thing: when you call 911, your police department will still show up, and we will still be professional, and we will still protect you, as we always have.” – Tristan Grunder
Tristan Grunder, President of the Fraternal Order of Police, said the union understands the concerns and also what the people have been saying about police. “I hear the horrible things that you think we are, and we understand that, but I can promise you one thing: when you call 911, your police department will still show up, and we will still be professional, and we will still protect you, as we always have.”
Grunder pointed out that nobody who was suspended was on that K-9 unit: “Our K-9 unit did nothing wrong. This was an unfortunate accident that happened to Mr. Bradley’s eye. We followed every procedure.” Grunder said there are 40 vacancies at GPD and that if they get rid of the K-9 department, next month they’ll be at 50 vacancies. “The month after that, you’ll be at 60.”
GPD Sergeant Joe Castor came in street clothes, saying he was “speaking as a citizen from the ‘hood, not as a sergeant at the Gainesville Police Department. My question to the commission is, what do you want us to do as a police department? You’ve taken away a lot of our resources. You’ve taken away the helicopter, was a resource to apprehend our suspects. You want to take away the dogs. As an officer who’s been involved in an officer-involved shooting, I do not want to take somebody’s life, but that’s my job. That’s what I swore to.”
“I love you, Commissioner Walker, but that video, everybody’s watching that, throughout the city of Gainesville. How many people do you think want to be officers today? How are we supposed to recruit people?” – GPD Sergeant Joe Castor
He continued, “We’re here to listen to you guys. How come we can’t work together and make Gainesville a safer place?… I love you, Commissioner Walker, but that video, everybody’s watching that, throughout the city of Gainesville. How many people do you think want to be officers today? How are we supposed to recruit people? Be on the SWAT team. If there’s a hostage situation right there, I’m willing to be on the front line, to go in there, take the bad guy, knowing that I’m going to be shot and killed. The dog is a resource… We’re willing for that dog to get shot and killed… Please don’t take away our resources… How many of y’all rode with a police officer? No one. I’m running towards the gunfire. That shooting that happened downtown, I was there… You want to dismantle this without thinking rationally.”
Don Suereth, who said he wrote the first K-9 manual for the Gainesville Police Department and first became a K-9 officer in 1976, said, “This is a very well-trained department. The dogs are very well-trained… We know what it takes to train a dog.”
People in the crowd started snickering while Suereth was talking, causing Poe to pound his gavel and go back and forth with Chanae Jackson, saying, “No outbursts, please,” while she talked back. The time spent quelling the disturbance was subtracted from Suereth’s three minutes, and a similar pattern happened repeatedly when people spoke in support of GPD. Suereth said, “One of the things you’re considering here is reducing a threat level. We go from officer presence being the least amount of threat, to deadly force. Canines are not deadly force. It’s been proven time after time in federal court.”
Dr. Fields, founder of Zion & Company, a mediation firm in Gainesville, offered to “facilitate the conversation… in a confidential setting… to come up with some kind of resolution in this situation… Allocating the funds in placing mediators or arbitrators, that is a solution that we can do with the police department… to try to work out the conflict.”
Kenya Ellis said, “There are too many [police officers] in this city that are racist and unprofessional on the east side of Gainesville… This is barbaric. This is inhumane, and it’s derived from slavery. How can we trust and work with the officers if you’re treating us like slaves and animals?”
“If we’re committed to racial equity, we need to be an anti-racist city… [The anti-racist] policy here today is to dismantle your K-9 unit. We cannot train our way out of a culture problem, and there’s a serious culture problem in our K-9 unit.” – Danielle Chanzes
Danielle Chanzes said, “If we’re committed to racial equity, we need to be an anti-racist city… [The anti-racist] policy here today is to dismantle your K-9 unit. We cannot train our way out of a culture problem, and there’s a serious culture problem in our K-9 unit.”
Bishop Chris Stokes asked the commission to postpone making a decision, “based on the tone and tenor in this room tonight… ‘Come let us reason together.’ Reasoning has to be minus the emotion… It has to be minus the anger… I get it, the being fed up with law enforcement. There’s problems… I haven’t heard anyone mention solutions… You’ve identified that there are problems. Fix the problem, not dismantle an entire department… You can’t make a rational decision based on emotion. Come, let us reason together.”
“I’m a little disappointed, quite frankly, in the way that this thing has evolved. You went from critiquing the policy to calling the Gainesville Police Department, which I represent, racist.” – Chief Lonnie Scott
GPD Chief Lonnie Scott also spoke during public comment: “I’m a little disappointed, quite frankly, in the way that this thing has evolved. You went from critiquing the policy to calling the Gainesville Police Department, which I represent, racist. Since 2010, the Chief that we have has been African American. I’m proud to follow him… Take a look at the video that was shown. You saw three situations; two of those dogs were totally out of control. The GPD dog—the handler tried to pull him off the first time, didn’t work. Ten seconds later, he pulled him off. The other two situations weren’t nowhere near that.”
Scott continued, “It’s disturbing to me to sit here and have this thing devolve to a situation where you’re looking at GPD as a whole like we are bad; we’re one of the best agencies in this country. One of the best.” Several officers started clapping, and others in the crowd started jeering, then Poe spent about 45 seconds of Scott’s 3 minutes scolding the officers, as City employees, for not setting an example of following the rules they’re supposed to enforce.
Scott said 24% of Gainesville Police Department is African American, compared to 20% of Gainesville residents being African American. He said the command staff is 50% African American. “You don’t have that, typically, in law enforcement agencies our size… Look at the amount of gun violence we have here. The passion should be in saving those lives… I’ll invite any of these folks in this room to join us, to walk into those situations when gunfire is being fired, but you’re not going to have a lot of fun doing that. So don’t demonize the people that work for the Gainesville Police Department, because they are some of the best people in this community. You can’t be more noble than to put your life on the line for people that you know don’t care for you. The last thing I want to say is that… ” Poe cut him off at that point: “I’’m sorry, Chief, I’ve got to treat you the same as everyone else.”
Former Chief Tony Jones also spoke during public comment, saying every organization has good people and bad people, “but I can tell you… the majority of officers that I had the privilege to work with, they’re good officers. They’re here to protect, and they’re here to serve.”
Jones asked the commission to not rush and make a decision: “I don’t want people to think that all the Gainesville Police Department is just out to get people of color… I don’t want you to think that these officers—be it black, white, whatever—that we’ve got one mission in mind, and that is to go out and attack people of color. That is just not what I see, and if I did see it, I dealt with it.“
Many people said during public comment that it was unacceptable for 10% of apprehensions to result in dog bites.
We counted 52 public comments, with 33 who called for the elimination of the K-9 unit, 11 who supported the K-9 unit, and 8 who did not address whether the K-9 unit should be retained.
Commission discussion and motion
When the discussion came back to the commission, Duncan-Walker asked Chief Scott and Interim City Manager Cynthia Curry what they’re doing to fill the vacancies at GPD. Scott said officers need to feel like they’re valued and that officers are leaving after fewer years of service than they used to. He also said they’re losing officers to surrounding counties, where they can make more money while dealing with fewer calls for service.
Duncan-Walker responded that she had heard “there are officers who would stay for less if things were a little different in the department.”
” I implore all the people that had the energy to be here tonight, be actively involved in trying to save somebody’s life. We have a shooting incident almost every week, sometimes two. We recover a gun almost every day, an illegal gun, every day. Don’t wait until it impacts your family to become passionate about it.” – Chief Lonnie Scott
Scott spoke about efforts to decrease gun violence: “Gun violence happens to everybody, and we have to look at this as a community and recognize that this is a community problem. And the gun violence is not necessarily the problem; it is the symptom of things that are out there, be it mental health, be it lack of education, be it lack of employment, there are other things out there that are causing this. Lack of parenting. So we met with the parents some time ago… we met with the school board, we met with the Children’s Trust… I implore all the people that had the energy to be here tonight, be actively involved in trying to save somebody’s life. We have a shooting incident almost every week, sometimes two. We recover a gun almost every day, an illegal gun, every day. Don’t wait until it impacts your family to become passionate about it.”
Curry said she would “hate to see K-9 just cut in light of the fact that we don’t have enough officers on the street, and we do need to have that tool.”
Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut said the issue could not be decided that evening, but she planned to push for a Public Safety Subcommittee. She said, “Race relations—I was very disappointed to see who the dogs bite… I think that’s something that needs to be looked at more in-depth. I think we need to look at, when a dog is so vicious, should that dog be retired. And I think this particular dog should still be retired because it’s too vicious.”
Commissioner David Arreola favored policy changes in apprehending suspects, “particularly when folks are being non-violent,” but he didn’t favor doing that with only five commissioners present. He supported “reform discussions that can help reduce the number of violent instances, particularly with apprehensions with non-violent victims.”
Poe said he wanted to speak about allegations “about both overt and covert racism within the department. That has got to be spoken about, often and plainly… We as a community are gonna have to be patient as we have that conversation.”
Duncan-Walker made a three-part motion, asking staff to bring back information about:
What GPD/municipal government would look like with or without a modified version of the K-9 unit, including seeing what other places are doing;
What other cities are doing in terms of a citizen oversight board;
A cultural audit of the K-9 unit to see where the issues are and bring back recommendations.
Chestnut seconded the motion. The vote was unanimous, with Saco and Hayes-Santos absent.
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