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GPD’s K-9 situation reduces ability of department to catch suspects, search for missing people

File photo: Alachua County Sheriff’s Office K-9 Ruger

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Over the past month, Gainesville Police Department has gone from having a five-member K-9 unit with a seasoned supervisor and trainer (in addition to a sixth handler who was not part of the unit but whose dog was available to respond to calls until October 2022) to a three-member unit with an inexperienced supervisor and a trainer with little, if any, experiencing training police dogs. The three K-9 teams are sent out on shift in K-9 vehicles and uniforms, but according to sources within the department, handlers have been told that they cannot deploy the dogs without approval from high up in the chain of command.

The situation has been building since at least the Terrell Bradley apprehension on July 10, 2022, and tensions ramped up even more after the November 16 City Commission Special Meeting to discuss the use of K-9 teams in the department. Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker showed a video with horrific dog apprehensions that outraged many people in the room; however, several former K-9 handlers have told Alachua Chronicle that, far from being the norm, those videos are used in training as examples of practices that should not be emulated. Public comment at the meeting was lengthy, with 52 people giving opinions on the use of K-9s to apprehend suspects. The commissioners, however, did not come to any conclusions but instead asked staff to bring back more information, and City Manager Cynthia Curry told us, “Staff is currently in the process of working out the follow up meetings around the canine discussion.”

Just two days before the Terrell Bradley injury, former GPD K-9 handler Edward Ratliff filed a lawsuit against the City of Gainesville in federal court alleging racial discrimination within the K-9 unit and retaliation after he submitted a complaint about the alleged discrimination. A third count alleging retaliation for his Workers’ Compensation claim was recently remanded to state court.

About a month after the city commission meeting, on December 20, Sergeant Charles Owens submitted his resignation as K-9 Unit Supervisor and asked to return to a shift sergeant assignment. Owens wrote, “I have made this decision after recent events have shown it is not the desire of GPD Command for me to continue to supervise the unit.”

As a result of losing Owens, and also, we were told, as a result of staffing shortages, all of the K-9 handlers were assigned to patrol shifts as of January 9. The handlers continued to drive marked K-9 vehicles, and the dogs accompanied the handlers during their shifts, but handlers were told that they could not deploy the dogs.

Before January 9, handlers were assigned to full-time K-9 duties and were able to respond to in-progress crimes as needed and act as backup for other officers, but K-9 teams are now assigned to a zone, working a patrol shift.

The loss of the unit left GPD without an important tool for apprehending suspects who run, for conducting searches in buildings, and for locating missing persons. The Mutual Aid Agreement between the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office (ASO) and GPD (signed January 20, 2021, and in effect through January 14, 2026) allows for but does not require ASO to provide assistance to GPD; an ASO spokesman told us the agency will not provide K-9 assistance to GPD except in an “exigent” situation.

Decisions to deploy the dogs are made on a case-by-case basis

Two GPD K-9 handlers who were at the scene of a foot chase on January 16 did not deploy their dogs, but a GPD K-9 was deployed on January 17 after a suspect allegedly pulled a gun on an officer and then ran. 

Police departments who cannot provide evidence of ongoing training are vulnerable to lawsuits if a suspect is injured, so we asked GPD on January 18 whether anything had changed since January 9. We were told that “in the past seven days,” Acting Sergeant Dylan Hayes-Morrison had been named as supervisor of the unit, and Officer Jamie Hope was identified as a trainer; training was scheduled to resume on January 20. GPD also said that the “armed confrontation with a GPD officer necessitated the need for immediate apprehension due to the significant threat to public safety” and that the deployment was authorized by Chief Lonnie Scott. 

Sources within the department tell us that although the teams are visible during their shifts in K-9 vehicles and K-9 uniforms, there has been no change to the instruction given by email on January 6 that the dogs “will not be deployed” from the vehicle for enforcement actions.

On January 24, GPD officers found a woman hiding in a shower after conducting a security sweep of an apartment; this is a situation in which dogs would typically be used to both locate the suspect and protect officers from an ambush, but no dogs were deployed in the search.

New K-9 leaders are inexperienced in their roles

The new K-9 Unit Supervisor, Acting Sergeant Dylan Hayes-Morrison, joined the K-9 team in October 2017, attended Police Canine School between November 2017 and January 2018, and has completed two Advanced K-9 training courses. He joined GPD in 2009 and has worked as a patrol officer, liaison to the Gainesville Housing Authority, Narcotics Investigator, Burglary Detective, Street Crimes Investigator, Corporal (patrol), and K-9 Unit Corporal. 

Officer Norwood “Jamie” Hope, the new K-9 trainer, was a K-9 handler between 2006 and 2013, completed training as a K-9 Instructor in 2011, and was certified as an Instructor in 2014, according to FDLE records. He has served in the GPD SWAT and Sniper teams. We asked whether Officer Hope had trained any K-9 teams, and GPD did not answer the question.

On January 20, another member of the unit, Corporal Rob Rogers, resigned from the K-9 unit “due to unforeseen personal circumstances” but remains in his patrol assignment. That leaves only three K-9 teams in the unit.

“The most valuable thing the dog brings is his nose”

K-9 units have become widely used in law enforcement because they aid in apprehending suspects, locating evidence, and detecting drugs and explosives; the dogs can also go into buildings first, protecting their handlers and other officers when the location of a suspect is not known. In addition, dogs are used to track lost elderly people and lost children. GPD’s dogs are currently not available to deploy in any of these situations unless handlers receive permission, and the information provided to Alachua Chronicle indicates that those decisions are being made in the heat of the moment rather than based on any guidelines.  

Donald Suereth, who was a K-9 handler with GPD for over 18 years, has many years of experience as a K-9 trainer and evaluator, and wrote the first K-9 policy for GPD, told us that “handcuffing the police department by restricting the use of K-9s is ridiculous. You’ve taken away the most important aspect of K-9 police work when you don’t allow them to track. Both of my dogs saved my life, and I have seen dogs save many K-9 handlers’ and other officers’ lives. GPD has always had a well-trained K-9 unit, and that is invaluable.”

Suereth said that activists who have been trying to get rid of the GPD K-9 unit since the Bradley apprehension focus on the dog’s teeth and the potential for injury, but “the most valuable thing the dog brings is his nose.”

Suereth concluded, “K-9 units are essential to police work; if you don’t have one, you need to get one.”

  • Dam this this woke $hit needs to stop if thugs would stop braking the dam law they would be able to keep their eyes

  • The city commission is committed to defunding the police! They’re just doing it incrementally, trying not to be too obvious about it- hopefully the citizens can see it:
    -60+ officers- gone. (9/7/17 when ‘Pandering Poe’ screwed them again.
    -City funding for School Resource Officers- gone.
    -Helicopter/ Aviation unit- gone.
    -Horses/ Mounted unit- gone
    -NOW the K-9 unit- nearly gone.
    See a pattern here??! While crime skyrockets in Gainesville…

      • Violent crimes aren’t the only crimes being committed.
        Lack of common sense isn’t represented.

      • Well Kenny you would be correct. When you reduce the number of law enforcement by half and lose seasoned police officers, then crime reporting and statistics would clearly reflect these numbers. Crime is still happening and going up but they just don’t have the officers to fight crime.

      • How can you post crimes are down with a straight face.
        We now have weekly drive by shootings, market place is adding to the crime rate daily

        • The report this very site shared showed violent crimes are down. The population is growing at 1.16% annually, so to say crime is skyrocketing is simply just not true.

          • Compared to 2019, the most recent year not effected by covid lockdowns, Len’s figures seem to show that counts of severe violent crimes booked into the jail are up. Bookings for crimes such as burglary and theft seem to be down but it is a reasonable question whether the reduced police headcount has forced them to focus on the most violent crimes against persons. Also, since a material portion of arrests comes from officer-initiated contact, it is reasonable to expect if we had an officer headcount from five years ago, they would be booking more criminals into the jail than we currently see.

    • Now thier Cash Cow GRU is in peril and upside down. Another leap backwards for the COG and Lawless Comminsioners under State Audit issues and New Goverance of GRU. Gainesville is in a downward woke spiral and deserves its bankruptcy.

  • With the abundance of K-9 knowledge you have as a journalist, what would you consider experienced for the new K-9 leaders? From the trainings and years of service you have listed, I would say they sound experienced to do the job.

    • Ruger is a beautiful Belgian Malinoir. If a law enforcement says “keep your hands where I can see them” comply…don’t run either.

    • Sounds like the author has been pretty diligent in their reporting. And has laid out the facts Purple dinosaur style. If you have any other facts that were not mentioned, I’m sure the author is all ears.

    • The k9’s will put their lives on the line to protect the officers…they are beautiful and loyal…man’s best friend.

      • Yes. We need the K9’s with all these convicted felons carrying stolen guns…being a police officer is a dangerous job. Thank you officers!

  • The same Woke activists who got rid of chain gangs here also got rid of K-9. Due to “the optics” instead of law enforcement.
    Is the Law written with just optics, pretty pictures, now? 🤡👹🤬😡

  • You know the old saying, “if you can’t beat ’em, join them.” Maybe that’s what should happen in the community. Selectively join the liberal cause.

    Think about it – abolish the police force…ALL of them. Especially those who don’t work the neighborhoods. The state in all likelihood will pass the open carry legislation, citizens could take care of the crime. Think of the money saved on salaries and benefits.
    Everybody wins. The city gets cleaned up, funeral homes prosper, the not for profit groups get the leftovers to give to the homeless population. Speaking of homeless population, shouldn’t take long for Grace Marketplace to have plenty of vacancies, less panhandlers in the medians, (leadership closes their eyes to them anyway so they won’t be missed).

    It’s worth considering.

  • An inexperienced supervisor for the canine department is far better than allowing the clowns we have as commissioners decide how to run GPD. Desmond- Walker ” cooked the books” to fit their narrative. Typical. Pathetic. Embarrassing.

  • Once again it’s the citizens (voters) wants and complaints over public safety.
    What will it be next, the motor unit for too many tickets? The forensic unit for to many latent print hits?
    If nothing else, Mr. Hope brings a wealth of K-9 experience to the unit. He is a sharp cop.

  • Gainesville city commissioners do not have the training or experience to make decisions for the police department. It’s dangerous to alleviate a vital tool needed to handle those who run from police. Search and rescue has been invaluable. Though I don’t want to send a police dog into a dangerous situation, it’s far better than his handler. There are consequences when you beak the law. As we’ve seen in many cities, crime increases when those who beak the law do not face consequences.

  • Obviously, the woke city of gainesville is more worried about criminals than citizens, police officers, and police dogs.

    You voted for these silly, woke commissioners gainesville now you can live with them and with police hamstringed by silly woke policies.

    I don’t care that a criminal lost an eye during the commission of a crime and his arrest. I do care that the police officer and K-9 who stopped him and arrested him weren’t injured.

  • One-party ruled woke areas have been trying to force ALL gov’t workers into being DEI social workers. Teachers, cops, EMS… everybody forced to keep the charade going — instead of doing their original job descriptions. That’s why so many are quitting.

  • The GPD K9 unit have only themselves to blame. A police dog biting a person’s eye out. Sounds like Nazi Germany.

    • Has there been any proof offered that the injury to the fugitive’s eye was due to a dog bite?

    • Maybe when felons get pull over they do get out and run the blame is 100% on him he chose to carry a gun and drugs and run

    • Or the dog wasn’t the mechanism of injury. The dude has a stick hanging out of his eye that the family/media refuses to report on. But outrage sells and people like Luke easily gobble up whatever they can and cannot think for themselves.

  • GPD needs to support the officers and community they work for. Get off the woke train of protecting the criminals, off the I want to be liked train, and stop playing political games at officers and civilians expense. Get the brass back on the road for a refresher if need be. Good grief!!!!!!!

  • If the dogs nose is most important then have them track, locate and then be held back! GPD always has enough officers on calls, and has the luxury of time to convince any perp to give up! If the situation then is so dangerous then send in the swat units who are trained for such encounters.

    • If felons would not run when caught with gun drugs they would not get bit and loose a eye 👁️ less place the blame where it belongs actions have consequences

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