Police Dog Foes Speak Out

Friday January 16, 2004

Residents spoke out Wednesday against a police proposal to return German Shepherds to the force more than a quarter century after they were banned. 

“This is the wrong time in America for Berkeley to take a step backwards,” said civil rights attorney Osha Neumann, one of 13 people to question the plan’s fiscal and political implications at the first of three forums to be held by the Police Review Commission. Follow-up forums are secheduled for Jan. 28 at the North Berkeley Senior Center and Feb. 11 at the West Berkeley Senior Center, both at 7 p.m. 

Following the final hearing, commissioners will make a non-binding recommendation to City Council, which has the final say. 

BPD Capt. Stephanie Fleming tried to allay fears, saying the dogs would 

be trained to bark, not bite, and would never be used for crowd control or 


Berkeley has few open scars from police dog violence since the force did away with them in the early 1950’s as a cost-cutting measure. Various efforts to reintroduce dogs were met with sharp opposition, leading to an outright ban in 1977, modified by City Counci in 1982 to allow use of other cities’ dogs in special circumstances. 

The current proposal was hatched during an election time meeting between Mayor Tom Bates and the Berkeley Police Association—an organization which later endorsed his rival. 

Those opposed to the plan stressed the city’s risk to liability lawsuits during a budget crunch. “These animals are going to take somebody’s job away,” said Berkeley attorney and former PRC Commissioner Jim Chanin who has represented police dog bite victims.  

“If [the police] do this, I’ll be watching and waiting,” he said. “They’ll use them at their peril.” 

—Matthew Artz