GPD K-9 community engagement meeting attracts few people
BY JENNIFER CABRERA
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The first of at least three planned meetings on the future of the Gainesville Police Department (GPD) K-9 Unit was held Tuesday night at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Multipurpose Center.
Gainesville City Manager Cynthia Curry opened the City’s presentation by saying, “This is what we do – we face issues that are tough, and we work our way through them, but we don’t do it in a vacuum; we do it with community engagement helping us to reach the right decisions… I am here, as City Manager, in full support of the Gainesville Police Department.”
Curry reviewed the recent history of the K-9 Unit, including the November 2022 meeting of the City Commission to talk about the K-9 unit. At that meeting, the commission asked staff to do three things: address things that could occur within the K-9 unit that would improve it; look at an additional oversight structure to provide support to GPD and advice to the commission; and perform a culture audit of GPD’s K-9 unit. Curry said City staff are looking at all three of those elements to provide information to the commission’s new Public Safety Committee, which will discuss the K-9 Unit on March 27.
Curry continued, “I will state that I do believe that a K-9 unit is important for our Gainesville Police Department officers. Clearly, they need to have a protocol, clearly they need to have training, they need to have everything that will make this particular method of enforcement important and carried out in a way that clearly is safe. I know there’s a lot of concerns, but I know they do their best to make sure they’re working in that protocol, and we want to share some of that. We may not have 100% support on that, but I will say this: Without the support of this particular tool–it’s just like having a gun, just like having a Taser, it’s just like having anything else, you have to be trained, and you have to be responsible and accountable in the use of it.”
Former Police Chief Tony Jones said he wanted to focus on 2023, not 1963, “when we had an incident in Birmingham where they turned dogs loose on kids… during a protest… We can’t go back; we have to look forward.”
“Everybody that puts on this uniform, they do it because they want to be a hero… they’re here to try to save someone’s life. The K-9 saves lives. It saves the life of officers, and it saves the lives of citizens… It is a means to gain control without elevating to the level of deadly force.” – GPD Chief Lonnie Scott
Police Chief Lonnie Scott, Sr., said, “We ought to be able to explain what we do and how we do it.” He explained that a K-9 is only one component of the use of force continuum, what GPD calls “Response to Resistance.” Today, force is only used in response to resistance, although Scott said that may not have been true 50 or 60 years ago. “But today, we do not use force unless we get to a position where everything else doesn’t work, then we use progressive force… Dogs are used primarily against folks that are committing violent acts and we have to gain control and compliance… Everybody that puts on this uniform, they do it because they want to be a hero… they’re here to try to save someone’s life. The K-9 saves lives. It saves the life of officers, and it saves the lives of citizens… It is a means to gain control without elevating to the level of deadly force.”
“Subjects are much less likely to flee on foot, physically resist arrest, or reach for weapons when they know a police dog is on scene or is being used to locate them. The barking of the dog, normally accompanied by loud, verbal announcements, if the suspect’s location is known, typically results in a suspect reconsidering their next actions.” – Captain Anthony Ferrara
Captain Anthony Ferrara gave a history of GPD’s K-9 Unit, which officially started in 1964; the department currently has two patrol dogs and two single-purpose narcotics dogs. At one point, GPD had eight K-9 teams that provided 24/7 coverage. Ferrara said one K-9 team can replace a team of at least four officers in searching a building. K-9s are also used for de-escalation: “Subjects are much less likely to flee on foot, physically resist arrest, or reach for weapons when they know a police dog is on scene or is being used to locate them. The barking of the dog, normally accompanied by loud, verbal announcements, if the suspect’s location is known, typically results in a suspect reconsidering their next actions.”
Ferrara said GPD handlers go through initial training for close to 600 hours and train every week for up to 10 hours, surpassing the mandatory minimum of 16 hours a month established in case law. The teams are recertified on an annual basis.
In the past, a K-9 team made the news for saving the life of a choking baby, and multiple dogs have taken bullets for officers. K-9s are also used for community engagement and to find missing persons, particularly in enclosed spaces or wooded areas.
Procedures for tracking and pursuit
Once a K-9 responds to a call for service, an announcement is made at the beginning of a track unless there is an obvious danger to officers. Announcements are also made before and during building searches so suspects have the opportunity to make themselves known. Tracks are only permitted for suspects who flee after specific crimes, and as short a leash as possible is used for misdemeanors. A longer leash may be used for violent misdemeanors and felonies; the longer leash increases an officer’s reaction time. K-9s can be used to search a path for evidence left behind by fleeing suspects; this has produced guns and narcotics that could endanger children if not found. The K-9 may be used to pursue and physically apprehend suspects fleeing on foot following specific violent or forcible felonies, including gun crimes. They can also be used for domestic battery or violation of a domestic injunction.
Since November, GPD has implemented all of V2 Global’s recommendations, including reviewing all of the K-9 policies, which were last updated in 2019. For example, V2 Global recommended adding language to policies regarding electronic collars and breaker bars for releasing the dogs from their holds. Another recommendation was to have greater external relationships with other K-9 teams, which resulted in the recent agreement between Alachua County Sheriff’s Office and GPD on K-9 services.
A recommendation that is still in the works is the training of tactical officers to accompany the K-9 teams when they deploy; this has been challenging since the unit is down to two teams, with little availability to train the tactical officers. One notable policy change is that Chief Scott and the Command Staff must be immediately notified about every K-9 response to resistance that culminates in an injury; although reports have always had to be completed, this is a change in the required timing for notification. Another significant change is that dogs will not be used for crowd control, but they can be approved when violence erupts and significant property damage accompanies gatherings. Medical assistance is summoned after any K-9 use in an apprehension.
Between 2012 and 2022, K-9 apprehensions resulted in a bite in one out of every 213 times that a K-9 officer was on scene. GPD takes an average of 95,000 calls per year, and over that period, one in 6,784 calls has ended in a K-9 bite.
Chief Inspector Jaime Kurnick said GPD is transparent and focuses on de-escalation. Response to Resistance techniques are control techniques that are used when officers encounter individuals who are non-compliant. Kurnick said that every time a Response to Resistance technique is used by any officer, it is reviewed by three levels of supervision and sent to Internal Affairs. Over the past four years (2019-2022), Response to Resistance techniques have been used an average of 60 times per year, in an average of 0.065% of calls for service per year.
Kurnick said GPD had a total of 12 K-9 bites per year in 2019, 2020, and 2021, and 15 K-9 bites in 2022. GPD’s bite ratio (the number of bites per apprehension) was 9.8% in 2020, 9.3% in 2021, and 10.41% in 2022. Kurnick showed a chart with bite ratios from other agencies (ASO, Pinellas County Sheriff, and St. Johns County); according to the chart, GPD’s bite ratios are in line with other agencies, which ranged from 4.34% for ASO (2022) to 16.6% for St. Johns County, also in 2022. Bite ratios in the other two years ranged between 6.2% and 10%.
“Our agency stands behind the professionalism and the transparency that we have always had with the community, and we are willing to come talk to anyone about the utility of how good these dogs are for our citizens, for us as police officers, and for our ability to be able to enforce the law and make sure that we’re out there to help the citizens and the public be safe.” – Chief Inspector Jaime Kurnick
Kurnick concluded by stating that without a K-9 unit, community safety and officer safety are at risk, and the potential for use of Response to Resistance techniques increases. From 2019 to 2022, the K-9 assisted in apprehending 598 individuals. “Our agency stands behind the professionalism and the transparency that we have always had with the community, and we are willing to come talk to anyone about the utility of how good these dogs are for our citizens, for us as police officers, and for our ability to be able to enforce the law and make sure that we’re out there to help the citizens and the public be safe,” she said.
Nine people spoke during public comment; five spoke against K-9 use, and four spoke in favor of K-9s. Less than 30 people attended the meeting, not counting City and GPD representatives and the media.
Former GPD K-9 handler Bruce Nelson spoke about an incident in Alachua County in 1977 when a rape and kidnapping suspect pointed a shotgun at him. The suspect had raped a woman, stabbed the family’s dog, and kidnapped the woman’s husband. The suspect had said he would shoot the first officer he saw. Nelson went into the woods with his dog, and the suspect pointed a shotgun at him. Nelson’s dog took down the suspect, who stabbed the dog in the side and in the eye; the suspect was taken into custody. After that incident, the Sheriff decided to start a K-9 unit. Nelson said his dog saved his life “numerous times” He concluded, “These dogs don’t just save handlers; they save the public. They stop rapes, robberies, burglaries–and when we use them, they don’t fly through windows, killing innocent people, like bullets do. So get this unit back on the street as soon as you can.”
A man who opposed the K-9 unit said he wanted to remind everybody that the rules and regulations in the presentation “were the rules and regulations that led to Terrell Bradley getting mauled by a dog.” He said that since a firearm was found in the car, “he was not fleeing with a firearm; he posed no threat. There was no reason to believe he was a danger to anybody; he had already given over his driver’s license, so the police knew who he was.”
Sally Thorp said that dogs were portrayed as tools, like guns and tasers, but “I would like to point out that a gun or a taser only does what you make it do, however a dog has a mind of its own and is going to make its own decisions, as we can see when the officer was not able to get the dog off of Mr. Bradley.” She also said that adrenaline can “make the suspect more likely to flee, even more so after seeing so many times of racial and systemic inequalities and injustices in which, at every stage of the justice level, black citizens are targeted by the justice system.”
“Any time a person resists our efforts to control a situation… there’s a potential for injury. The best way to avoid that is to not resist our efforts to control the situation… You can disagree with what’s going on and file a complaint or make your grievances heard elsewhere, but it’s not the time, in the middle of a violent crime in particular, to try to do that when you’re dealing with the officer at the scene.” – GPD Chief Lonnie Scott
Chief Scott replied, “We just showed the data that shows that about 90% of the people that we encounter with a K-9 are not bit. That means, overwhelmingly, they are complying, and they are not resisting our efforts to control them. Overwhelmingly–it’s not even close… There’s overwhelming evidence that the de-escalation skills that those dogs, just their presence, that people will not run, will not fight, when that K-9 arrives on scene. And it saves them, and it saves the officer, injury and possible death. Any time a person resists our efforts to control a situation… there’s a potential for injury. The best way to avoid that is to not resist our efforts to control the situation… You can disagree with what’s going on and file a complaint or make your grievances heard elsewhere, but it’s not the time, in the middle of a violent crime in particular, to try to do that when you’re dealing with the officer at the scene.”
A man who said his name is Freddie and his nickname is “K-9” said he’d been training K-9s for 37 years and added, “I’m going to have to back GPD up, whether you like it or not.”
Donna Suereth, the wife of Don Suereth, a former GPD K-9 Sergeant, said Suereth’s K-9, Alf, saved her husband’s life: “That night, I did not become a widow. My two children did not become fatherless… If the dog hadn’t been there, I know how well my husband can shoot, and that would have been one dead bad guy.”
Danielle Chanzes asked why there were so few people at the meeting: “Where are the people at? Where is the community who’s directly affected by policing? There’s nobody here. This is very sad.” She said the event was “very poorly put together” and not adequately advertised.
Curry responded, “This is community outreach, whether there’s one or one thousand.”
Chanzes said, “Ok, I’m just pointing out that it seems the only community outreach that was done was Chief Lonnie Scott texting his friends who used to be former officers to come out here and support the department.” She continued, “Officers already have guns and tasers and batons–they have all the tools. What do they need a dog for? I’d like to see the community get more resources.”
Although speakers had been asked to limit their comments to around three minutes after Nelson spoke for about 5.5 minutes, Chanzes spoke for close to seven minutes.
“When the officers discovered the loaded firearm with an extended magazine capable of carrying 33 rounds, that’s when they asked for a K-9 because the thought for us is, now there’s a potential for this person to have another firearm, and that they’re a danger to people in the community and a danger to the officers that might be out there looking for them.” – GPD Chief Lonnie Scott
Scott responded, “I want to remind you, we’re talking about what we are doing when someone resists our effort to control the situation… We are going to deploy the dog for forcible felonies, also for domestic violence-type situations… and the other proviso is that if there is imminent threat to the safety of the community by the person being free. In the Terrell Bradley case, that was one of those parts that was used. Why? When we go to a scene and a person pushes an officer and flees, that’s a felony. We did not ask for the dog at that time. When the officers discovered the loaded firearm with an extended magazine capable of carrying 33 rounds, that’s when they asked for a K-9 because the thought for us is, now there’s a potential for this person to have another firearm, and that they’re a danger to people in the community and a danger to the officers that might be out there looking for them.”
Scott added, “We all saw the video, where the dog was in the bushes. There were officers standing within 20-30 feet of [Bradley], and they did not see him. They couldn’t find him. The K-9 came on scene and found him.”
Scott said multiple times that he is proud of GPD’s community engagement and that 99% of the comments he gets are positive: “And when we have the meetings, the folks that show up to the meetings and voice concerns about the dogs aren’t east side folks. They belong to the coalitions; there’s no east side folks.”
Chanzes said, “I don’t see any east side folks supporting the dogs, either.”
At least two more meetings will be held
Similar meetings will be held on March 21 at 6 p.m. at Williams Elementary School in the cafetorium; in the coming weeks, there will be at least one more meeting in the western part of Gainesville. The City Commission’s Public Safety Committee will discuss the use of K-9s at 1:00 p.m. on March 27.
No one showed up to listen to lies. No one showed up for a failed , soon to be replaced regime. No one showed up to be disrespected By Gainesville Leaders and listen to criminals being favored over Law and Order. No one cares about the Gville BS. Welcome to the only City in the State without a K9 unit, fired by a City Manager from Miami. Go Woke Go Broke , right Commissioner’s?????
Bingo! Well said Cappy!!!
People are busy trying to make ends meet. They want police and other basic services without needing to jump through a lot of hoops to please a demented and dysfunctional city manager. It’s more unnecessary talk talk talk. Just shut up already and let Chief Scott do his job.
Chanzes said, “I don’t see any east side folks supporting the dogs, either.” Hmmm? Ms. Chanzes is a paid activist for all things the GNV Mayor and CC want portrayed in a negative manner! She is a constant supporter of the criminal community! Oh, and Ms. Thorp, the dogs may have a mind of their own, but they listen better than the criminals!
The meeting was held in the backyard of the GNV Eastside Community, at night! Could it be the good people did not want to be identified as supporting the reinstatement of the GPD K-9 Unit? Perhaps their absence from this meeting indicates they too are tired of the Criminal Element inhabiting their neighborhoods!
Where was good old Terrell Bradley? The GPD Chief hit it on the head when he said they could not know whether Bradley had another weapon after finding the first with an extended capacity magazine! Tactically correct of the GPD to send in the K-9 Officer to root out this criminal and others in the future!
I guess the “souls” weren’t told to show up for this.
Wow. Lots of verbal vomit.
Not well attended? I’m SO 😮 that the usual bunch of criminals and their vocal coddlers didn’t want to show up to a room full of cops👮♂️ and dogs! 🐕 😄
I like what Chief Scott said. He responded directly to people and their comments. He seems to me to be a genuine peace officer.
Have one of these meetings at a neutral place in Gainesville not where gun crime is ridiculous!
Just train the dogs to capture a suspect and not eat them for dinner and tell the officers they are not there to sic the dogs on people when it isn’t needed and things will probably get better.
Felons: Just listen to instructions and don’t run from the law.
Tell shrubs and bushes not to poke eyes out, too.
Woke college towns don’t like the “optics” of K-9. Even though science and facts back up their validity. Snowflakes rule here.
OPEN THE BOOKS.COM
READ THE TRUTH, FOLLOW THE MONEY.
1) if you are elected as a city council person part of your onboarding should be a ride along. Period. You should understand from the ground up what you are dealing with and what you are asking of people. Start with a dispatch “sit along”. 1500-2300 is a nice compromise instead of the mandated 12 hour minimum shift they work at least 6 days/nights a week. And don’t spend your 8 hours talking and politicking around the room. You’re there to work. To get yelled at and cussed at by drunk baby mommas about “what is taking so long because“[LEO] don’t do s%#t!” Think you can get cussed out for that long and take it? I know Saco couldn’t. She would cuss back and leave crying. She has zero decorum not like the hard workers that are left doing the thankless job. She looks down on first responders but has zero the amount of fortitude they do. Guess what citizen. I’m just a person, in a room, with a phone. Talk to your commissioners about why there is no one there for the 4th shootout of the night. That’s right – no employees.
2) it used to be the commission hired the best person for the job but that person was not obligated to the commission. When did these law enforcement positions become political. Chiefs would stand up to the commission and tell them – you brought me on board because I’m not a yes man, I’m not going to be your puppet. I’m going to be honest with you and work with you to get things done. But I won’t be your scape goat for your back door deals. What happen to those great men and women? The ones with spines made of rebar but with firm, general hands? Good negotiators? Forward thinkers that realize letting people with zero law enforcement knowledge or what it takes to work the streets to catch the bad guys takes more than a pen, paper and a fun free zone. They realized that if they don’t sing the praises of the regime (similar to how North Korea runs) that they are demoted without cause, fired without cause, etc. a life long career down the drain for not agreeing to being the commissioners Capo.
4) after dispatch – take the commissioners on ride alongs. Not for an hour. For a shift. Even an 8 hour mid shift so they get 5 o’clock traffic and shootouts at Waffle House.
But if these commissioners want to make a difference, want to bridge a gap – be the first to get in the front lines. Do you trust the men and women in blue to keep you safe? You would have a better understanding what it takes to report to all sides.
The commission is not the mafia. GRU is not the electric mafia. It yet somehow everything is held hostage by these people.
Talk now is cheap. Destantis needs to open all the files from county and fix it.
Danielle Chanzes is a nasty, nasty woman. She is on the Antifa watchlist and deservedly so. She is what we like to call ‘the worst amongst us.’