The Racialized Violence of Police Canine Force

86 Pages Posted: 7 Aug 2023

See all articles by Madalyn Wasilczuk

Madalyn Wasilczuk

University of South Carolina School of Law

Date Written: July 26, 2023


In the United States, it is common practice for police to use biting dogs to facilitate arrests. The dogs leave scars, tear muscles, cause nerve damage, and sometimes kill people. Yet courts refuse to recognize police dogs as deadly force and instead justify their use as necessary to prevent suspects from getting away or ambushing police. Worse still, police predominantly sic dogs on Black people, highlighting the relationship of canine policing to its roots in slave patrols. While much has been written about police dogs as tools to search for illegal drugs, few scholars have explored the legitimacy of canine force doctrine or its racially disparate effects. The racialized past and present of police attack dogs call for a deeper understanding of the police dog as a weapon of social control that both creates and reinforces racial hierarchy.

This Article argues that canine policing descends from United States settler colonialism, chattel slavery, and militarism. Specifically, it lays out four ways that courts have interpreted the Fourth Amendment to give police dogs as weapons too long a leash. First, courts have failed to recognize the destructiveness of police canines. Second, courts have not justified the use of police dogs against fleeing suspects or as preemptive self-defense. Third, courts have failed to remedy harms inflicted against unintended targets. Finally, courts have not addressed the racialization of police canine force. In so doing, this Article moves beyond the regulation of police canine force as a Fourth Amendment matter and instead outlines the possibilities for curbing, and ultimately eliminating, police canine violence through the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments. Even more, this Article clarifies the role of reparations legislation to address racialized canine policing given the current state of federal constitutional litigation.

Keywords: policing, 4th Amendment, criminal procedure, race and law, history, dogs, canine

Suggested Citation

Wasilczuk, Madalyn, The Racialized Violence of Police Canine Force (July 26, 2023). Georgetown Law Journal, Vol. 111, No. 5, 2023, Available at SSRN:

Madalyn Wasilczuk (Contact Author)

University of South Carolina School of Law ( email )

1525 Senate Street
Columbia, SC 29208
United States

Do you have negative results from your research you’d like to share?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics