California wants to decrease officer safety by banning K9s from arrests and crowd control

California wants to decrease officer safety by banning K9s from arrests and crowd control

By Chief Joel F. Shults, Ed.D

In Birmingham, Alabama, sixty years ago, Eugene Connor, known by his nickname “Bull”, was in charge of the city’s police and fire department. These were intense days throughout the south as acts of civil disobedience were being organized and carried out. Bull Connor, an avowed segregationist who closed the city’s parks rather than obey a court order to allow blacks to use them, notoriously used police dogs and fire hoses to quell any uprising.

Those snarling, snapping dogs are embedded in the imagery of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. The iconic photos of Selma, Birmingham, Chicago, Watts, and other marches and riots include helmeted police officers with nightsticks in the air and tear gas rolling from the pavement. Those are images that history should not forget as a reminder of the progress we have made.

In large part due to those images policing in America drew the attention of politicians on the federal level. The 1960s were not far from the era of the Great Depression, during which time the federal government stepped in to intervene in daily life not seen since the Civil War (and the 1930s were not so far removed from the Civil War era). The role of the federal government was tested in the courts and many programs were determined to overstep the bounds of the Constitution.

In post-WW2 America, the black experience included fighting in segregated military units only to come home to find that the freedoms for which they fought, and the prosperity of a nation with newly flexed international muscle and pent-up economic energy, were out of reach. With little generational wealth and widespread government-enforced separation from whites in housing and public accommodation, the call for civil rights became a major political movement.

Even though the 14th Amendment mandated that all rights afforded under the Constitution and federal law applied to state and local governments as well, the application and enforcement of the 14th Amendment was not widely applied to matters beyond slavery until the 1960s. Until then, the 10th Amendment regarding states’ rights ruled. This meant that local law enforcement was of little concern to federal courts and Congress.

As white political and economic rule was threatened by activists demanding equal treatment, disturbances percolated and erupted at a time when the Vietnam War was also being called into question. The citizenry could not consider these movements in the casual reading of newspaper reports days or weeks after major events as they had for the first 180 years of nationhood, but was confronted by them every night on the news now that 90% of Americans had a television as the focus of family life. Never before had war and riots been displayed so vividly or so frequently.

All of these images have been regurgitated by anti-police politicians in California who are attempting to ban K9 use in arrests and crowd control. This misguided use of history is a frequent tool of those who desire the elimination of law enforcement. The civil rights era brought about the 1967 President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice resulting in the seminal report The Challenge of Crime in a Free Society. The report made monumental suggestions for the reorganization of policing, reforming juvenile justice, and increasing education and training for police officers. The result was the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 which, in part, authorized massive funding for state and local policing.

The major gains in professionalism, training, education, and technology that have been achieved over the past half-century are worthy of celebration. There is no doubt that the job of perfecting our justice system is far from over. There is no doubt that equal treatment of all citizens has yet to be obtained. But if we continue to focus on the stains of history, we may be doomed to live in those failures with no hope for the future. Where police operations need improvement we must improve, but punishing today’s police officers for the sins of their grandfathers is no way to build a more just society.