For the second time in a year, two civil rights groups on Tuesday asked the Police Commission to suspend operation of the Los Angeles Police Department's controversial K9 unit, citing the commission's own finding that dog handlers do not routinely issue warnings.
The activists also criticized a commission report for avoiding the issue of when the animals are allowed to attack, and for failing to instruct the department to switch from a "find-and-bite" to a "find-and-bark" policy.
Use of the 17-member K9 unit should be suspended, they said, until both officers and dogs are retrained.
Despite the complaints, the commission unanimously adopted the report on the use of the dogs and took no action on the moratorium demand. The 46-page report, which includes nine recommendations, will be forwarded to the City Council's Public Safety Committee, where it is scheduled to be discussed Monday.
"We view this report as a small step in the right direction . . . but (we) would urge the Police Commission to go further into more substantive issues," said Constance L. Rice, Western regional counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
Rice, joined by a representative from the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California, said later she would repeat the call for a moratorium next week before the council's Public Safety Committee.
The ACLU, NAACP and two private law firms, have filed a class-action suit against the Police Department alleging that its German shepherds and Rottweilers have mauled hundreds of people without provocation, most of them black and Latino.
Even Police Commissioner Stanley K. Sheinbaum, who initiated the review eight months ago when he was commission president, said he is not satisfied with the report and asked that it be labeled "interim."
"There is not enough articulated here on a find-and-bite versus a find-and-bark policy, and what the department's stance is on that question may be the most major of all the questions," said Sheinbaum, a member of the subcommittee responsible for the report.
Police Chief Willie L. Williams said the department is conducting its own "A to Z" study of the K9 unit. Williams also said that pending litigation prevents him and the commission from discussing specific charges of misuse of the dogs.
Although the commission's report similarly avoids discussion of specific complaints, it calls for nine changes in the unit's policies and practices--including that officers start issuing warnings when they release the dogs, a common practice in other departments.
In a letter to the commission, Rice and ACLU Legal Director Paul Hoffman praise that recommendation but say it concedes that the department has adhered to a practice of not giving warnings.
The commission's report also calls for creation of a special panel to review serious bites requiring more than "a simple cleansing and dressing," and for all bites to be documented on the same type of report. Now, suspect bites are chronicled on K9 search forms while those involving bystanders and officers are written up on administrative or injury reports.
According to the class-action suit, 900 people were bitten between 1989 and 1991. The Christopher Commission report released last summer found that in cases where police dogs were used, nearly 70% of the suspects--a disproportionate share--were African-American or Latino males.
As the commission adopted its own report Tuesday, the City Council's Budget and Finance Committee agreed to settle a suit involving the K9 unit for $145,000.
The case was filed by Jose Ricardo Rivera, who was reading and listening to music near the Sepulveda Wash Basin in Encino when he was attacked by a K9 dog during a search for three thieves.
According to a city attorney's report, Rivera suffered injuries to his penis, scrotum and left calf during the June 21, 1989, attack, and required surgery.