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Canine Detail a Pocket of Concern

Study reports 83% of suspects bitten by L.A. County sheriff's dogs are minorities.

August 14, 2004|Nikki Usher | Times Staff Writer

A report has found that 83% of suspects bitten by sheriff's dogs in Los Angeles County were minorities, and recommended that Sheriff Lee Baca's crime-fighting strategies be "rigorously rethought."

The semiannual review of the department's operations, largely laudatory, was prepared by Merrick J. Bobb, special counsel to the county Board of Supervisors.

The reports are not intended to serve as report cards but to offer oversight and recommendations.

The strongest words were for the department's Canine Services Detail. The report urged Baca and his deputies to engage in "soul-searching" on whether racial profiling was a factor in the high proportion of suspects bitten who are African American or Latino. That figure has never fallen below 80%.

In 2003, 25 of the 30 suspects bitten by dogs were minorities. In 1999, all 15 suspects were minorities.

"Is it racial profiling or is it not? And how do we deal with those kinds of vastly disproportionate statistics without compromising public safety?" Bobb said.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday August 27, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 64 words Type of Material: Correction
Sheriff's Department review -- An article in the California section Aug. 14 reported that Merrick J. Bobb, author of a report on the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, had urged the department to set a goal of no police shootings in a single year. Bobb, special counsel to the Board of Supervisors, urged the agency to "do its very best to prevent wrongful shootings."

The detail involves 10 handlers, 10 dogs, three sergeants and a lieutenant.

The report also found the dogs were biting more, though they were used less.

For about the past decade, about 10% of the suspects caught with the help of dogs suffered bites. For the first six months of this year, the rate was about 23%.

Bobb said that increase sparked the Canine Services Detail review, which focused on the disparity between white and non-white bite victims.

Baca's office promised to examine the report.

"We'll make changes as they need to be made, if they need to be made," said Steve Whitmore, a sheriff's spokesman.

Overall, Bobb's team praised the performance of deputies.

"Ultimately, the Sheriff's Department and the LAPD tend to do things better than almost all other urban law enforcement agencies," Bobb said.

His review also addressed training programs designed to minimize officer-involved shootings, complaints of officer misconduct and inmate violence in county jails.

It found that in 2003 and the first three months of this year, inmate violence was "troublingly high," but unsurprising given staffing and resource constraints and a growing prison population.

It did not specifically address five recent inmate killings at the Men's Central Jail because the Board of Supervisors has ordered a separate review of the problems there, Bobb said.

The review looked at "Laser Village," a shooting training program for deputies.

While the report concluded the program was helpful, it also urged the department to set a goal of no police shootings in a single year.

Bobb said Miami and San Jose have achieved that in recent years.

The report praised as a national role model the Sheriff's Department's system for handling complaints from residents about deputies.

But it also questioned the lag time between the filing of complaints and filing of reports, sometimes more than five months.

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