Gainesville residents call for abolishing the K9 unit

Wednesday’s special meeting of the Gainesville City Commission on the K9 unit pitted law enforcement officers pleading to preserve the unit against community members calling for it to be disbanded.

The meeting was called following the Gainesville K9 dismemberment of Terrell Bradley – who lost his eye after fleeing a traffic stop this summer – an internal affairs report revealing misconduct by officers after the arrest of Bradley and a lawsuit brought by a former K9 officer alleging rampant racism in the unit.

Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker, center, said police have already had two opportunities to present their side. This meeting, she said, was the people’s turn to speak. Mayor-elect Harvey Ward, right, seconded his motion to hold the meeting. (Katie Hyson/WUFT News)

The commission ended the meeting by unanimously adopting a motion from Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker asking staff to report the following information to the newly elected commission in January: What might abolishing or amending the K9 unit, and what other cities have done to stop relying on K9 units; possible frameworks for a citizen oversight board “with teeth” rather than the current police advisory board; a cultural audit of the K9 unit to identify issues.

The meeting began with two very different presentations.

The first, by the police department, touted the reasons for the K9 unit: community engagement, de-escalation and finding missing persons. He reiterated that no breach of policy was found during Bradley’s arrest. He pointed to a 10% bite rate when the K9 unit is deployed and the small size of those 129 deployments compared to more than 93,000 calls for service last year.

Chief Lonnie Scott maintained that the K9 apprehension was only used as a response to resistance and was necessary for the safety of officers and citizens.

Duncan-Walker opened his presentation with graphic videos of K9 mutilations from elsewhere in the country, ending with body camera footage of Bradley’s mutilation.

Members of the Gainesville community watch body camera footage of the K9 dismemberment of unarmed black resident Terrell Bradley, which resulted in the loss of his right eye, two broken fingers, 12 stitches near his temple and a spinal leak. On the far right is Kali Blount, a member of the police advisory board who urged the commission to act. “The east is the perfect hunting ground to play sports with dogs,” Blount said. “It’s a cancer. You have to get that malignancy out. (Katie Hyson/WUFT News)

She said the police were immune from liability.

“Just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s good,” she said, and pointed to nationwide K9 reform discussions.

“Consider the alternatives,” she said. “The stakes are high.”

Nearly 100 community members were in attendance, and public commentary lasted nearly three hours. Less than a dozen people came to the defense of the unit, all but a few being law enforcement.

The roughly two dozen calls to abolish the unit have suggested channeling the budget instead to community services targeting the roots of violence, underfunded and underfunded domestic violence shelters, rehabilitation centers and crisis centers, mental health services and technologies that could replace the use of K9s. .

“We can send people to the moon, but we can’t do it without K9 units?” a community member interviewed.

Although about 20% of Gainesville’s residents are black, they make up about 85% of those bitten by K9s in the city, reflecting the national trend of disproportionate K9 violence against black citizens. Some of those bitten locally are minors.

Duncan-Walker pointed to a local incident in which a 10-year-old black child was riding a bike in his neighborhood and a K9 was dispatched. The boy tried to run to his mother but only reached her door when the K9 bit his leg, she said.

Those who advocate the need for unity frequently referenced rape victims in their rhetoric, but more than a few self-identified rape and sexual assault survivors in the room denounced this argument as abhorrent and called for the abolishment of unity. ‘unity.

Others have called references to violent perpetrators a straw man argument. They asked for data on when K9s were used to find missing children and rapists. Statistics presented by the police department showed that K9s frequently bite people who are nonviolently resisting arrest or fleeing.

Law enforcement said K9s were used for de-escalation, but some community members pointed out that if Bradley hadn’t been arrested that night, he would have just gone home. They argued that it was the officers who made the situation worse.

A public commentator said he worked on the K9 unit from 1976 and wrote his first policy manual. He said the K9s saved his life twice and claimed they were an alternative to lethal force.

“So it’s OK to bully us if we don’t die?” asked community organizer Chanae Jackson.

“Please don’t deprive us of our resources,” said Sgt. Joseph Castor later said in an impassioned plea.

Shortly after, Scott removed Castor from the room after community members shouted that he had called community organizer Danielle Chanzes “trash” after talking about abolishing the unit.

While vacancies in the city have declined overall over the past two years, Acting City Manager Cynthia Curry said, vacancies in police departments have increased.

“We’re one of the best agencies in this country,” Gainesville Police Chief Lonnie Scott said, pointing at the podium to cheers from law enforcement, boos from community members and calls to order from the dais. (Katie Hyson/WUFT News)

Scott argued that abolishing the K9 unit would worsen the vacancy crisis, which he characterized as more of a retention problem than a recruiting one. Although 11 hires are expected to start in January, he said, three to four more are leaving this month. He said more than 30% of sworn officer positions are vacant.

He pointed to uncompetitive salaries as a driving factor, but Duncan-Walker argued culture also played a role – she said former officers told her they would stay cheaper if the department was different.

“I didn’t hold this meeting tonight to vilify you,” Duncan-Walker told police. “I held this meeting because I don’t care who you are, you have to be responsible.”

She pointed to a 2009 report by the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives and the ongoing lawsuit filed by a former K9 officer, both of which outline racial issues within the Gainesville Police Department.

“How can we trust and work with the officers if you treat us like slaves and animals?” resident Kenya Ellis disputed.

Some community members offered ideas for reform:

  • Provide more training to police on levels of use of force
  • Muzzle the K9s
  • Train the community on how to react and cooperate with the police
  • Use another breed of dog for the K9 unit
  • Put shock collars on K9s that could incapacitate them immediately
  • Do not pursue unarmed fleeing suspects
  • Remove problematic K9s
  • Fire the officers involved in Bradley’s arrest

Scott said they would make some changes to the K9 policy, without specifying what that might be.

Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut argued that a subcommittee structure was needed for the commission, one of which would be assigned to public safety, so that the commission could dig deeper into those issues. She also called for the retirement of Ranger, the K9 who mauled Bradley.

Although Mayor Lauren Poe voted to look into the possibility of a Citizens’ Oversight Council with more power to make changes to the police department, he said the commission considered the idea he four years ago and found the current police advisory board to be as remote as possible. could come under state law.

Curry has offered ongoing training days for city employees — including the police department — at least every two months starting in January, to allow them to focus on internal issues, including security issues. equity and inclusion.

Commissioners Reina Saco and Adrian Hayes-Santos were absent for the vote.

The newly elected commission will inherit the K9 unity debate in January.

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