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New K9 officers coming to TPD
Proposed law would ban use of police dogs for suspect apprehension
K9 Meeko and Anthieny
Turlock Police Officer Donna Anthieny poses for a picture with her new K9 Meeko. Anthieny lost her former K9 partner Bravo due to a health issue in December (Photo contributed).

After suffering the unexpected loss of one canine and the planned retirement of another, the Turlock Police Department has only had K9 Ace to call upon. That will be changing soon thanks to donations from a local group that allowed the department to purchase one dog and start shopping for another.

The $37,000 donation comes through the Corson Foundation for Canine Specialization, a nonprofit based out of Modesto. It will cover the cost of two dogs, the related school for the handlers and some of the basic initial equipment, said Turlock Police Lt. Michael Stapler, who oversees the K9 unit. A K9 team — dog and handler —generates on average about $18,000 in expenses for the department outside of the initial purchase cost and training, Stapler said. That includes everything from veterinary care, trainings and any related overtime expenses.

“This donation was very well timed and I can’t even say how much it was appreciated by the department and especially the handlers,” Stapler said. “It allows us to quickly get the program back up to full strength.”

Meeko, a 13-month-old Belgian Malinois, is the newest member of the K9 unit and he has been partnered with Officer Donna Anthieny, who was previously partnered with K9 Bravo until his untimely passing.

K9 Ace and Diaz
The Turlock Police Department only had K9 Ace (pictured with handler Officer Marco Diaz) to call upon until the addition of K9 Meeko and soon to be another police dog (Photo contributed).

It’s not just the addition of the dogs that has boosted the unit of recent. The department also got a donation from Vested Interest in K9s, Inc., which was sponsored by the National Police Association, of a bullet and stab protective vest for Ace. The nonprofit group provides bullet and stab protective vests and other assistance to dogs of law enforcement and related agencies throughout the United States. Since its inception in 2009, Vested Interest in K9s, Inc. has provided more than 5,000 vests to K9s in all 50 states at a value of $6.9 million, made possible by both private and corporate donations.

The build-up of the department’s K9 unit comes as the California legislature considers a bill that would alter how the dogs can be deployed.

Assembly Bill 742 would prohibit the use of an unleashed K9 to apprehend an individual and ban the use of the dogs as a form or crowd control. It was co-authored by Assemblymember Dr. Corey A. Jackson and Assemblymember Ask Kalra with the intention of ending practice that historically has been aimed at people of color.

"The use of police canines has inflicted brutal violence and lifelong trauma on Black Americans and communities of color," said Jackson. "This bill marks a turning point in the fight to end this cruel and inhumane practice and build trust between the police and the communities they serve."

The bill will not prevent the use of police canines for search and rescue, explosives detection, and narcotics detection that does not involve biting.

In the Turlock Police Department’s K9 unit the dogs are used for searches, tracking, protection, apprehension and public relations. Under the Turlock Police Department’s policy regarding using canines for apprehension, it can only be used “if the canine handler reasonably believes that the individual has committed, is committing, or is threatening to commit any serious offense and if any of the following conditions exist: There is a reasonable belief the suspect poses an imminent threat of violence or serious harm to the public, any officer, or the handler; the suspect is physically resisting or threatening to resist arrest and the use of a canine reasonably appears to be necessary to overcome such resistance; and the suspect is believed to be concealed in an area where entry by other than the canine would pose a threat to the safety of officers or the public.”

The policy goes on to state that “absent a reasonable belief that a suspect has committed, is committing, or is threatening to commit a serious offense, mere flight from a pursuing officer, without any of the above conditions, shall not serve as the basis for the use of a canine to apprehend a suspect.”

Stapler said that using the canines for apprehension is a very small piece of the pie.

“I had a canine for four years and never once had to use it for apprehension,” Stapler said. “Usually the threat alone would work. It was more bark than bite. The tool is being able to say ‘come out or I will send in my dog.’”

The two new canines that will be joining the department and eventually Ace, will undergo training on scent detection of narcotics and possibly other items like firearms, so they will have an additional benefit to the department whether or not AB 742 becomes law.

“If we do not have the ability to use these dogs for those apprehension situations, then so be it,” Stapler said. “We would retool our training program and still have them available as other assets, as far as their detection abilities.”