Is a police dog in a demonstration justified?

The police used violence more often in the past year than the previous year, according to figures provided by the police themselves: from about 16,000 incidents in which the police used violence to 18,477. It would essentially be “the effect of corona time on society.” The service firearm has been pulled (but rarely fired) more than 2,800 times. The police dog, the heaviest means of violence after a service firearm, was used less often: “only” 200 times. In fact, maybe a little more: in the report, the police noted only the heaviest substance used in the accident.

Although the police dog is used relatively little, there is often frequent criticism of its use in demonstrations, for example. Control Alt Delete, an NGO that campaigns against racial profiling and police brutality, shows on its website just how much of a threat such a sheepdog can pose. The organization refers to a Movie From the spring of 2021, where a policeman released his dog at a protester lying on the ground, he fired a warning shot.

In a video, police push a dog towards a protester who is already on the ground

in another place Movie (Also in March 2021) Police pushed a dog towards a protester already on the ground. The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture also recently very critical On the actions of the Mobile Unit (ME) at an anti-Corona protest in Malefield in The Hague. In general, this raises the question: is the use of dogs during the demonstration justified?

Not in contact with the crowd

Otto Adang, a lecturer in public order and risk management at the Police Academy in Apeldoorn, does not utter the words: “Dogs should not be brought into direct contact with crowds of people.” Adang spent years researching the riots in the Netherlands and wrote the book about them Hooligans, freelancers, cops. Violence and police action in riots (2002). Adang found that sniffer dogs are often involved in the unintended use of force by police. “Dogs regularly bite people without intent,” Adang says.

In the Netherlands there are about four hundred police dogs that can be used to maintain public order. The police themselves do not keep track of how often the use of a bloodhound results in injuries. Since 2019, the police have recorded in a national system the number of times violence is used. These figures are published in the annual police report. In 2020, police used violence in 17,000 incidents, 339 of which were of a dog. So in 2021 there were 200.

Research by VU Amsterdam shows that if a dog begins to bite, this results in minor injuries to the individual in 57 percent of cases, and serious injuries in 14 percent. In the case of physical violence by the same police officer, the rates are 28 and 1 percent, respectively. With (old) batons and pepper spray, these numbers are even lower.

Investigative journalists from the TV show Zembla have already shown in two episodes in 2020 and 2021 that police dogs often do not comply with the order to leave, so they continue to bite. According to Zembla, this has to do with the way the animals are trained: a second broadcast showed dogs being mistreated at the Royal Dutch Police Dog Association (KNPV), including with the use of toothed bands, sticks and an electric shock weapon.

There are no clear betting rules

Zambala revealed that there are no clear rules for the use of police dogs. The program also showed that sniffer dogs are also used for petty crimes and against “confused people”. Official instructions, which specify when the police may use force, now only state that the use of a police dog is only permitted under the “direct and continuous supervision of the handler”. And that the dog handler has a special certificate, for which he must continue training. But there is nothing on paper about when and against whom a bloodhound can be used.

The police can still use the dog on children under the age of twelve and obviously pregnant women

Why do we send the police after “confused” people?

Agents often do not have sufficient knowledge to provide appropriate assistance.

When the new official instructions come into effect on July 1 this year, there will be more rules for the use of sniffer dogs. With regard to the use of a bloodhound in demonstrations, it states that the use of a bloodhound as a means of violence is permitted ‘to disperse gatherings or crowds that pose a serious and immediate threat to the safety of persons or businesses. This bet on a leash.

However, police will still be allowed to use the dog with children under 12 and obviously pregnant women, and it is strictly forbidden to use electric tasers, a weapon that can be used to deliver electric shocks. Under the new rules, a police dog can be used to detain criminal suspects with the threat of imprisonment of four years or more. For example, theft is (only) included, as it carries a maximum penalty of four years in prison.

constant barking

According to Adang, the presence of dogs in a demonstration can also create an unsafe atmosphere. “Semi-constant barking certainly does not reduce stress and makes verbal communication difficult,” says the Public Order and Risk Management lecturer. Marjoleen Kuijers, a human rights specialist at the Dutch Commission of Jurists for Human Rights, believes this may deter people from demonstrating. She advises protesters about their rights, in cooperation with Amnesty International in the Netherlands.

“Police dogs can look very intimidating and they can frighten people,” Kuijers says. The human rights specialist would like to see the police take a different stance during the protests. “The focus is now often on maintaining order, while the police should focus more on facilitating the demonstration, such as protecting protesters from groups that disagree with them.”

“The police like to be limited to protecting and facilitating the right to demonstrate, but they will always act in a restrictive manner if the situation escalates,” says Hilma Huising, a spokeswoman for the Police Forces Department. According to Hueng, in a number of cases, demonstrations have been hijacked in the past year by groups deliberately seeking confrontation with the police.

Huizing says that using dogs can have a “regulatory” effect, for example to keep large groups of people at a distance or away or to point them in a particular direction. If the officer keeps the animal on a long chain, he can create a barrier of about 5 to 10 meters between him and the hooligan. According to the police spokesperson, the police also view a dog bitten as an extreme method of violence. “This is the reason why they are so conservative and not taken lightly.”

Horse as a substitute?

Another animal that the police can use during demonstrations is the horse. This is especially impressive: you do not risk a bite wound with a horse. Adang: “Research shows that horses are a relatively nonviolent medium. They can be of great use in police actions in group situations: drivers often have a good overview due to their higher position, are clearly visible and respect the leadership.”

However, Adang also advocates “extreme restraint” when using horses. To some extent, horses have the same disadvantages as dogs. For example, a horse can look very intimidating to demonstrators and thus create a gloomy atmosphere. In the case of horses too, there is the question of whether animals should be used at all. At the beginning of 2021, the Animals Party was already asking parliamentary questions about the care of police horses, after some police horses slipped during a demonstration for Corona in Eindhoven in January of that year and one of the horses exploded in a panic and ran away. A survey by Hart van Nederland of more than 2,500 Dutch people, a month later, showed a majority of them wanting police to stop using horses in high-risk demonstrations.

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