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Victims of police dog bites in New London are mostly black or Hispanic

When the NAACP last year shared some copies of citizen complaints against New London police, one that stood out as especially egregious described a 2009 incident involving police union President Todd Lynch.

Lynch, according to the complaint, which turned into a lawsuit that is still pending in Superior Court, drew his gun on someone he stopped in the New London Shopping Center parking lot, a man he then ordered inside a nearby Radio Shack for a "cavity search."

Inside the store, as customers and employees looked on, Lynch asked whether there was a back room and whether it had cameras, the lawsuit says.

In the back room, he ordered the store employee to leave and then pulled down the complainant's pants and underwear - while he was handcuffed - and made him bend over to "make sure this is not where the drugs are," according to the lawsuit and the complaint included in the compilation by the local chapter of the NAACP.

No drugs were found.

Curiously, it was outside the same Radio Shack a year later, after Lynch said he got out of his cruiser and fell to the ground, that his police dog, Jasper, leapt from the open driver's door to attack and bite a 12-year-old girl who had crossed in front of the car, according to a police report.

Lynch told officers investigating the bite that the dog must have believed that the girl had attacked him and was responding as trained.

The police report on the incident also noted that there was nothing in the cruiser separating the driver's area from the back of the car to isolate the dog in the rear cage, adding: "This issue has been documented in the past."

The family of the young girl hired an attorney and filed a claim for damages against the city.

I received the report of the girl's bite after submitting a Freedom of Information request to the city for reports of dog-bite incidents.

Making the FOI request seemed relevant now, given the current standoff between Mayor Daryl Finizio, who wants to cap the police dog program at one dog, and the City Council, which earlier this month unanimously passed a non-binding resolution saying the department should have at least four dogs.

But, oddly enough, the idea of making an FOI request regarding the police dog program, of which Lynch is in charge, got a public airing last year when the union head sued the city and Police Chief Margaret Ackley, claiming, among other things, that Ackley had suggested to a city gadfly that she make an FOI request for the police dog information.

Indeed, after reading 18 reports on the most recent dog attacks, I see why the police chief wanted people to learn more about the program run by her nemesis.

I am sure some people will find no problem with the way the dogs have been used to apprehend suspects and attack uncooperative or violent detainees. But I found it disturbing to read about the way the dogs are used routinely, often jumping out of cruiser windows to attack on their own.

Most of the dog-bite reports say the handlers believed themselves or the public to be at risk. But none of the bite victims in the reports I read turned out to have a gun and, in many cases, more than one officer was present when the bite occurred.

You wonder why an attack dog is needed, instead of pepper spray, a stun gun or an old fashioned night stick.

In one case, the bite victim was someone walking on the sidewalk, minding his own business, when Lynch pulled alongside in his cruiser to confront him. It was someone the head of the police union said he knew to have a criminal record and who seemed to be concealing something in his clothes.

Another bite victim, someone with a criminal record who was apprehended after running from a hospital psychiatric facility, said in a Superior Court lawsuit, one he brought himself, that he had been caught, had submitted to arrest, and was kneeling in front of Lynch when the officer told his dog: "Get him."

The victim said he has had nightmares about dogs ever since.

Lynch told police investigators that the victim had ignored warnings and orders to surrender.

I don't think these biting attacks are what dog lovers have in mind when they rise up to support New London's police dog program.

The statistics I received from the FOI request tell an even more stark story.

In six of the 18 cases, the bite victims were not convicted of a crime. One would like to think that someone on whom police sicced an attack dog eventually would be found to be guilty of something.

More alarming are the statistics on the racial makeup of the victims of police dog attacks in New London. There was a fairly even split between white and black or Hispanic dog-bite victims in 2008, but of the 17 bites in 2009 and 2010, the victims were overwhelmingly not white: 89 percent black or Hispanic one year and 100 percent black or Hispanic the next. There have been only three bites in the last three years.

Meanwhile, the city's population is about 44 percent white and, most years, close to half of all those who get arrested are white.

You wonder, how could half the people arrested one year have been white while all the police dog bite victims were black or Hispanic?

Whatever form or size it takes, it seems to me, the city's dog program could use some new direction and leadership.

As a matter of fact, I think the city could stand to lose both the police chief and police union chief and their personal war. Let them sue each other and the city from afar, off the city payroll.

This is the opinion of David Collins


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