Activists criticize use of police dogs against people
February 4, 2016 12:00 AM
Nia Johnson, left, listens to the details of the Bruce Kelley Jr.'s stabbing of a police dog Sunday in Wilkinsburg during a meeting of the Alliance for Police Accountability Wednesday night in East Liberty.
Emily Sawyer, center, of Wilkinsburg, listens as residents speak during the meeting.
By Dan Majors / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Angry that a weekend confrontation between police and two men in Wilkinsburg resulted in the death of a police dog and one of the men, a group of community activists today is starting an online petition calling for restricting the use of police dogs.
The movement was the result of a meeting Wednesday night at The Kingsley Association building in Larimer, where about 50 people decried the use of the animal in a Sunday afternoon situation that escalated and ended with Bruce Kelley Jr., 37, stabbing the dog, Aren, when the animal attacked him. Two police officers then shot Mr. Kelley to death.
“Should we be using dogs on people?” said Brandi Fisher, president of the Alliance for Police Accountability. “It’s human nature, when a dog attacks you, you’re going to protect yourself and ward that animal off you. You are not going to allow that dog to maul you. That’s self-preservation.”
Recalling the black-and-white images of dogs being used by police to terrorize civil rights protesters in the South during the 1960s, speakers at the meeting said the practice is still happening today as police bring dogs to East End youth gatherings.
Police dogs are appropriately used for search-and-locate tasks and to sniff for explosives, Ms. Fisher said, but too often police are using the dogs for intimidation and attacks.
Residents also noted that police dogs are incapable of using judgment and, once released, are trained to attack.
Highland Park resident Helen Gerhardt said she had attended a police dog training session, where the trainer made it clear, “A police dog is a tool. They should not be romanticized or humanized. This is an animal that is trained to attack, and they’re difficult to call off. ... Once the dog is released, it’s out of control. It has been trained and conditioned to attack. It is a tool of terror. It does not de-escalate.”
Steven D. Nicely, the owner of K9 Consultants of America, a private business in Buda, Texas, that provides guidance to people on the use of police dogs, does not agree with the proposed ban.
“When they’re properly trained and properly deployed, they’re a very useful tool,” said Mr. Nicely, who has more than 40 years of experience working with police dogs.
“[Officers] can use the dog as less force than actually shooting someone,” he said. “The presence of the dog can help protect officers from being attacked. Their presence can help prevent people from becoming aggressive, and they can help protect the officers.”
In 2014, after a police dog named Rocco was killed by a suspect, the state Legislature stiffened penalties for people harming or killing police animals.
“The dog is innocent. I don’t want to use them at all,” Ms. Fisher said. “I think it’s inhumane. I think it’s illogical. And I think it’s wrong to expect a person to allow themselves to be mauled by an animal and not fight it off. It’s the police who are putting the dogs in harm’s way. They release the dog and they know the situation is going to escalate, which sets [the person targeted] up for an extra felony.”
The county medical examiner Wednesday released Mr. Kelley’s body to Cremation and Funeral Care in Peters. The owner, Danielle Andy Belusko, said Mr. Kelley’s family had not made plans for a service.
In addition to his father, Mr. Kelley is survived by his mother, Johnnie Mae Kelley of Washington, Pa.; a sister, Calisia Kelley; a niece, Aujalae “Lady Bug” Lyle; and several aunts and uncles.
“I feel that the incident was wrong,” said Mae Chandler, Mr. Kelley’s aunt. “I think taking a life over a dog is the worst thing I can ever hear in my life. To kill my nephew because he killed a dog, it’s not right. And they’re having a funeral for the dog, and my sister has to try and get enough donations to try to bury her son.”
Dan Majors: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1456. Madasyn Czebiniak and Joe Smydo contributed.
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