K-9 Catch-22: The Impossible Dilemma of Using Police Dogs in Apprehension of Suspects

50 Pages Posted: 22 Oct 2018 Last revised: 21 Sep 2021

See all articles by Ann Schiavone

Ann Schiavone

Duquesne University School of Law

Date Written: 2018


In the past several years, the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania has seen two canine police dogs (K-9s) killed in the line of duty, Rocco in January 2014, and Aren in January of 2016. Both were killed by stab wounds while attempting to apprehend suspects. The man who killed Rocco received significant jail for stabbing and killing the dog, while the man who killed Aren was fatally shot as a direct result of his actions toward the canine. While Rocco was vocally celebrated in the community, and sympathy primarily focused on the canine, the deaths of Aren and the suspect who killed him, Brian Kelley, Jr., led to a very different response. In the aftermath of the 2016 incident, there was significant vocal outcry from a variety of advocates (for both humans and animals) concerning the injustice of using K-9 officers to apprehend suspects and calling for a ban on such practices. Certainly, Pittsburgh’s experiences are not unique, although they present a vivid backdrop for the discussion of whether K-9s should be used for apprehension of suspects and under what circumstances.

This paper explores the legal and ethical questions surrounding the use of police dogs, specifically in the realm of apprehending suspects where a violent interaction between human and canine is inevitable. The Fourth Amendment allows the use of canine force against persons if “reasonable” under the totality of the circumstances, based on the officer’s observations. However, that totality of circumstances does not take into account the very real and very reasonable fear response induced in humans by an animal attack, that in some cases compels the suspect to defend themselves and thus places the suspect at risk for further violence, and the police dog at risk for injury or death. Further, while any suspect may be compelled to resist or defend itself against a police dog, the historical usage of police dogs against African Americans, coupled with the deployment of police dogs more frequently in minority communities may tend to put African Americans at greater risk in this K-9 catch-22. Ultimately, the paper considers the question of whether, in light of human behavioral fear response to animal attacks coupled with examples of implicit racial bias, using police dogs in apprehension is ever truly “reasonable.”

Keywords: Police dogs, use of force, Fourth Amendment, cognitive science, racial bias

Suggested Citation

Schiavone, Ann, K-9 Catch-22: The Impossible Dilemma of Using Police Dogs in Apprehension of Suspects (2018). University of Pittsburgh Law Review, Vol. 80, No. 3, 2018, Duquesne University School of Law Research Paper 2018-21, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3267314

Ann Schiavone (Contact Author)

Duquesne University School of Law ( email )

600 Forbes Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15282
United States
412-396-2117 (Phone)

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