Editorial: More answers needed about K-9 video

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 3, 2021

The public is owed more answers about a training incident involving a police department K-9.

A video that appeared to be filmed with a smartphone showed a man walking away from a police car and toward another man wearing a bite suit. A dog jumps out of a police car, appears to comply with a shouted command to sit or stay and is then strung up by a leash, slammed into a police cruiser, placed in the back seat and struck by the officer.

After a Charlotte TV station published and removed an initial story about the video, Police Chief Jerry Stokes held a news conference to talk about the incident. Among other things, he said the officer has been separated from the K-9.

The meat of his statement is as follows: “It is important to understand that police K-9s are trained to use force against criminal suspects and the handler must ensure that they have complete control over the dog at all times so that any use of the K-9 in the field is appropriate and lawful. When a K-9 is noncompliant with the handler’s commands, the handler is trained to correct the dog. K-9 training tactics and corrective measures can sometimes be alarming when provided out of context.”

Stokes did not provide that context on Tuesday and did not take reporter questions.

Neither the public nor most reporters have intimate knowledge of how police dogs are training. So, if the actions are considered appropriate by Stokes or other leadership in the Salisbury Police Department, it’s critical to state what kind of training occurred. How many other animals have been subjected to the same training? Was the officer in the video the same one to which the Salisbury Police assigned the animal? Why did people inside or standing next to what appeared to be another police car remark that there were no witnesses? Why were the same people talking about turning cameras off?

It’s good that Stokes announced the start of an investigation. He should release as many details as possible once it’s complete. The public needs to know whether this was an isolated incident or whether it’s an example of a systemic issue.

Dogs are not humans, but they deserve to be treated humanely. That they might be attacked or injured by a suspect while on duty shouldn’t change that fact.