The proliferation of smart phones and body cameras may make it easier for Los Angeles lawyer Donald Cook to win lawsuits over police dog bites, NPR reports. Cook has mainly lost so far, which he blames on “The Rin Tin Tin Effect.” Juries think of police dogs as noble, and have trouble visualizing how violent they can be during an arrest. In fact, the dogs can inflict a lot of bloody violence, Cook says. Videos of serious incidents should provide more evidence for Cook’s cases.
Police dog handlers say dogs are a valuable method for subduing dangerous suspects while protecting officers from harm. They point out that a dog can be called back after it’s been unleashed, unlike the deployment of a Taser or the firing of a gun. One argument for the dogs is that they’re a “pain compliance” tool: the bite is supposed to convince a suspect to hold still. Frank Baker, who was bitten by a police dog last year in St. Paul, said that as the dog tore into his leg, following police commands was the last thing on his mind. “I didn’t hear what they were saying,” he says. “My mind just went blank.” Seth Stoughton, a former officer who teaches law at the University of South Carolina, says, “You just look at the dog as the source of pain and you do everything you can to address that pain. Those shouted commands — you’ll deal with that later, when the pain stops.”