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Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Friday, March 10 @ 5:44 p.m. / Crime, Local Government
CCPD Chief Urges Opposition to Two Bills: One That Would Limit K9 Use, Another Addressing Mental Health Crisis Response
Crescent City’s police chief had the same opinion about two proposed bills that seek to limit law enforcement in different ways: If they pass, people will get hurt.
Richard Griffin introduced City Councilors to State Senate Bill 402 and Assembly Bill 742 on Monday. The former establishes a system that puts response to someone experiencing a mental health crisis in the hands of agencies other than the police. The latter prevents officers from using a canine to arrest or apprehend a suspect.
Councilors were willing to send letters to Del Norte County’s representatives in the state legislature opposing both bills, which were introduced last month.
“I don’t break the law, but just the presence of a police dog makes me want to walk a little bit straighter,” Crescent City Mayor Isaiah Wright told his colleagues. “To me, a police dog is another tool. It’s a less lethal version than what a gun is.”
While AB 742 would also prohibit using police dogs for crowd control in addition to apprehend or arrest a suspect, they would not prevent using them for search and rescue or to detect explosives or narcotics — anything that doesn’t involve biting.
Riverside Assemblyman Corey Jackson introduced the bill last month, stating that the use of police dogs has “inflicted brutal violence and lifelong trauma on Black Americans and communities of color.”
The American Civil Liberties Union California Action and California Hawaii NAACP are cosponsor AB 742.
On Monday, Griffin said the Crescent City Police Department doesn’t use its two police dogs, Lt. Kai and Sgt. Kostya, for crowd control. K9s shouldn’t be used for crowd control due to the potential liability involved. However, deploying a K9 could potentially save a human life, he said.
Griffin told Councilors of someone who committed an armed robbery and carjacking in Blue Lake and barricaded himself in the attic of a Del Norte County motel.
“There were two options to go up in that attic,” said Griffin, who was on the Del Norte County Sheriff’s Office’s SWAT team. “One was to send a K9 first and the second was (to send) a SWAT team first. What ended up happening is the person heard the dog. The guy didn’t want to get bit, so he came out.”
If Jackson’s bill passes, Griffin said Crescent City’s K9s are dual purpose. Even if they weren’t used to apprehend a suspect, they could sniff out narcotics, he said. But if the bill does pass, people could get hurt.
“Probably 18 months ago a subject with a knife was threatening officers,” he said. “We ended up chasing him down and he wouldn’t stop resisting. The dog latched onto him for a couple seconds. It was Lt. Kai.”
Councilor Jason Greenough said just the dog’s presence “saves lives.”
“I do believe that it’s going to result in more lives being taken, whether it’s perps or putting our officers at further risk, if this law passes,” Greenough said.
Crescent City Mayor Pro Tem Blake Inscore said while Jackson’s bill offers statistics about the percentage of police dog bites requiring hospitalization versus the use of a Taser or baton — 67.5 percent versus 22 percent — it doesn’t state the percentage of officers who are injured due to the hands-on apprehension of a subject.
“What’s frustrating is when things are done on one side of the story by advocates without looking at both sides of the story then we end up with very unbalanced proposed legislation such as this,” Inscore said. “It’s not good for law enforcement. It’s not good for the community’s safety and I would argue it’s not even good for the lawbreaker to take that deterrent out.”
Griffin said he felt SB 402 also would get people hurt. Introduced by California Senator Aisha Wahab (D-Fremont), SB 402 would build on the implementation of the 988 telephone system for suicide prevention and mental health crises.
If the bill passes, such calls would be dispatched to a local fire department or fire district, emergency medical service provider, mental health professional or a “non-sworn” unarmed police department staff member.
Wahab’s bill does allow those responders to call police if the subject is armed or are described as or known to be violent, Griffin said. An officer could also respond in the case of a medical emergency if they’re able to provide care faster than other responders, he said.
“This (applies to) any call related to homeless individuals including, without limitation, illegal camping, panhandling, drug or alcohol abuse, public urination or defecation, disturbing the peace or obstructing a sidewalk or entryway,” Griffin said. “It also includes any call related to a person who appears to be experiencing mental health issues.”
Griffin said he’s working with Sutter Coast Hospital and the Del Norte County Social Services Branch to establish a mobile crisis unit to respond to mental health emergencies. It’d be a 24-hour response unit, he said.
“I understand that mental health is not a crime for most instances,” he said. “But I understand the reality of being a law enforcement officer responding to these for almost two decades and I know what it’s going to do in this county. We don’t have the resources. We don’t have the funding that LA has, that San Francisco has, Sacramento, and the reality is this is not going to work in this county.”
Inscore pointed out that Wahab’s bill skirts law enforcement response to homelessness and mental health issues completely. Del Norte’s mental health professionals aren’t on call 24-7, Inscore said.
“In our county that means we’re going to respond to all of these calls with either volunteer firefighters or Del Norte Ambulance alone,” Inscore said. “It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that here’s a recipe for somebody, just as you said, to get hurt.”