In a blog on its website, the law firm representing Todd Lynch, president of the New London police union, took issue with a column I wrote Friday outlining some of the problems with the controversial police dog program managed by their client, including the principal complaint that most victims of police dog bites in New London are black or Hispanic.
"It was no surprise to see another one-sided Dave Collins opinion piece that skewed, omitted and frankly appeared to make up some facts (ie, police dogs "often" deploy out of car windows," the Waterford law firm of Synodi & Videll said at the start of its official blog "response" to the column.
I thought it curious Lynch's lawyers chose to dispute the fact that dogs often deploy from cruiser windows since I got that from first-hand accounts by Lynch and other New London K9 officers in police reports on 18 separate dog bite incidents in the city.
• "Upon observing a physical altercation with myself, K9 Buck immediately deployed out of the open driver's window and came to assist with apprehending the accused," an officer said in a February 2010 report.
• "My canine exited the front driver's side window as trained and ran after the accused," an officer said in a May 2009 report.
• "I drove up to the accused and exited my vehicle leaving my drivers side window down to give my assigned K-9 Jasper the ability to exit the vehicle if needed," Lynch wrote in an April 2009 report. "I informed the accused of the presence of the K-9 and instructed him that if he fought or resisted our efforts, the K-9 is trained to exit the vehicle and bite him."
• "I went back to my vehicle to roll down my driver's side window to give my K-9 access to assist if needed," Lynch wrote in a January 2009 report on a dog bite. "My K-9 Jasper exited the front driver's window and apprehended the accused by his right leg."
• "I left my front driver's side window down to allow my assigned K-9 Jasper access to exit the vehicle," Lynch said in a report on a separate January 2009 dog bite incident, a confrontation that began, he said, when someone walking by his cruiser said to him: "I hate (blank) pigs."
• "My police K-9 partner 'Ike' upon observing, as trained, his handler being assaulted/fighting, leapt from my driver's side cruiser window and rushed to my aid," said a report on an October 2008 bite.
• "The accused pushed my hand away and started to flee across the street. At this point my K-9 Jasper exited my vehicle and ran after the accused," Lynch wrote in an August 2008 report.
• "My K-9, observing the attack and assault on me, acted as trained and exited the front driver's seat of the vehicle," Lynch said in a June 2008 report.
• "The K-9 exited the front driver's side window as trained and began to run after the accused," Lynch wrote in a May 2008 report.
These are official records of dogs deploying out of car windows, sometimes on their own, in cases where someone was bitten. One wonders how often it occurs but doesn't end in a bite.
In fact, I got a call Tuesday from someone who said he was stopped by Lynch about this time last year. While he stood outside his pickup and talked to Lynch, the dog leapt from the cruiser window and ran toward them, finally stopped by a command from the officer.
It was alarming and intimidating, said the caller, who claimed he was stopped on the false allegation of talking on his cellphone while driving.
Lynch's lawyers also said in their blog post, in response to the part of the column that reported that a 12-year-old juvenile was bitten by Lynch's dog after the officer fell and left his cruiser door open, allowing the dog to run out and attack the innocent girl, that Lynch had asked for a cage.
"Lynch as well as other officers repeatedly asked for cages and warned of potential danger," the lawyers wrote.
And yet, with or without cages, the officers clearly state in their reports that they expect the dogs to have the ability to jump out of the cruisers and self deploy.
I called around to chat with some police dog trainers to ask about dogs that deploy out of cruiser windows. I learned that not only are cages pretty routine but so are automatic car door openers, so that officers can decide, from a remote location, whether to let the dogs out.
That seems like a better plan than allowing them to just jump from a window deliberately left open.
The dogs should be under the complete control of their handlers, not free to jump from a car at will and attack. The case of the young girl being bitten is a good example of how easily a dog can misinterpret a situation.
Considering the lawsuits that have been filed over New London police dog bites and statistics that show minorities are most often the victims, even though they generally make up only about half of all people arrested, the City Council needs to discuss at length proposals to expand the city's police K9 program to four or more dogs.
The evidence, so far, seems to support the perspective of Mayor Finizio, who advocates for capping the city dog program at one.
This is the opinion of David Collins