Animal ethics: should we stop using police dogs?

“Hello, my name is Izno, I am a German Shepherd. I am 7 years old and I have been with the Paris canine company since 2014. Published on the site of the Paris police headquarters and on its social networks, this somewhat offbeat interview presents the work of this tracking dog, through the voice of Jérôme (clarification made at the end of the video, for anyone who has had a doubt), its canine technician driver or police dog handler.

Richard Marlet, now honorary divisional police commissioner of 36 quai des Orfèvres and renovator of the technical and scientific police, wrote a reference work, devoted to these dogs like no other and published in 2011: Police dog profession – On the trail of these very special agents.

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In recent history, we can remember the fate suffered by Diesel, an assault dog in the service of the RAID, killed during the police operation in Saint-Denis targeting Abdelhamid Abaaoud and his accomplices, on November 18, 2015 , a few days after the attacks of 13-November. The death of this Belgian shepherd Malinois had touched many people, already tested by this annus horribilis, and offered a renewed interest in these unique civil servants.

“Diesel has melted the hearts of millions of Internet users, she was no less an assault dog trained to bite”, recalls Olivia Cohen, in an article that we published a year after this event and presenting the work of these dogs in the service of the State.

Stimulated aggressiveness that can leave troubles

Sébastien Mouret, a sociologist specializing in “animal work”, refers to police dogs as being “the armed mouths of the Republic”in an article published in 2018. “Even if training limits their role to that of a handgun and reduces the diversity of their behavioral repertoires to aggression, in order to exploit its strength, animals achieve the status of colleague by embodying a value police: courage.”

This courage is in fact the consequence of a “production of docile animal bodies”. This applies both in the selection of breeds – for example, the RAID canine brigade chooses exclusively Malinois, because of their morphology and their character – as well as individuals put to work (according to their personality), and continuous training. aimed at disinhibiting and making profitable the aggressiveness of dogs within the forces of order. Courage is therefore quite relative, since a dog cannot choose this career full of dangers on its own.

“The aggressive reinforcement of dogs is carried out jointly by isolation in kennels, where their “desocialization” is prolonged, another cynotechnic term designating the function of training”, also explains in his text Sébastien Mouret. It will be necessary to wait until retirement (called “reform”), generally at the age of 7 or 8, to enjoy the comforts of a family home through adoption. “In addition to the risk of attack on family members, the rules of affectionate docility that organize the behavior of pets hinder the “liberation” of canine aggression. […] A patrol dog must have only one social universe to belong to: the police.

But some dogs are unable to adapt to this new life, such as the unpredictable Erros, at the origin of the first retirement home for police dogs in France, in Cabriès (Bouches-du-Rhône), near Marseilles. Interviewed by 20 Minutes in September 2021, David Rodriguez, head of the Bouches-du-Rhône national police dog squad, hopes “that one day, the state should tackle the issue of retired police dogs head-on”. A State which would therefore be responsible for the too unstable behavior of Erros, the product of a training that damaged his personality.

An indirect and amplified violence that challenges

Like their human counterparts, police dogs find themselves exposed to physical abuse during their years of service. Some are traumatized by it and must be reformed prematurely. This was the case in 2010 for Icky, a 19-month-old Malinois shepherd, kidnapped during his training by the police in Liège (Belgium) and whose behavior then changed.

At the end of 2021, when the law against animal abuse was being examined, the Stéphane Lamart association – which works for the defense and protection of animal rights – had questioned the Minister of the Interior Gérald Darmanin and the senators, in order to obtain the creation of an aggravating circumstance in the event of acts of cruelty committed on animals held by serving officers.

“During their missions, police dogs are sometimes abused, brutalized, hit by individuals, and no one cares”, then lamented Stéphane Lamart with the Dauphiné Libéré. Finally, the law promulgated on November 30, 2021 did create an aggravating circumstance and provides that acts of cruelty to police dogs are punishable by a four-year prison sentence and a fine of 60,000 euros. But there is reason to wonder about the use of these animals within the police, despite the inimitable performance of their flair.

Conversely, because of their training which plays on their aggressiveness, police dogs also end up being weapons by destination. A survey of StreetPress, posted online in April 2023, denounces the police brutality committed in Saint-Denis (Seine-Saint-Denis), since the election of mayor (PS) Mathieu Hanotin in July 2020. The municipal police dog brigade, including three German shepherds, Dutch or Malinois, is implicated there.

In her investigation, journalist Lina Rhrissi recounts, for example, the nocturnal episode experienced by Jordan (the first name has been changed), a 41-year-old territorial official, who has since filed a complaint for violence by a person holding public authority. “About to go home [Jordan et une amie, ndlr], they see a dozen municipal police officers beating a man against a tree, visibly drunk. While several residents challenged the police, the dog handler would have released his animal, muzzled, on Jordan’s friend, a small fifty-year-old. A police officer would have launched: “I do what I want me! I am the municipal police”, before gassing Jordan.”

“Considered as weapons”

This offensive use can even target specific categories of the population. It has been documented for many years in the United States, as pointed out by Gwenola Ricordeau, sociologist and assistant professor of criminal justice, on Twitter in 2020. Media specializing in criminal justice in the United States, The Marshall Project published a series of edifying articles in October 2020 and entitled “Mauled: when police dogs are weapons” (“Mutilated: when police dogs are weapons”), not forgetting the racist dimension towards the African-American population.

It was already the subject of the novel white dog by Romain Gary, written in 1969 following the author’s encounter in Beverly Hills (California) with Batka, a wandering German shepherd, systematically aggressive towards black people. He had been trained by police in the southern United States to attack on sight, in the context of the civil rights movement.

The French writer recounts in his novel a dialogue he had with Jack Carruthers, owner of an animal reserve:

“Your mutt is too old.
– It’s a matter of patience.
-It’s too late. He must be around seven years old. It is unrecoverable. We cannot change it. He took the crease in depth. This is called professional deformation.
“We can’t leave it like this.
“Okay, put him down. That’s what I would do in your place.
“Seems to me the bastards who trained him should rather be bitten…”

In recent years, the question of the use of police dogs has been in the public debate in France. A handful of weeks ago, at the beginning of May, the “animal condition” poles of La France insoumise, Europe Écologie-Les Verts, the New Anti-Capitalist Party and Ecological Revolution for the Living (the party created in 2018 by Aymeric Caron) published a column on Basta: “No animals in the service of law enforcement”. They call to ban this practice, as well as the mounted police, being “firmly opposed to the idea that animals can be considered as weapons” And “used as tools for the maintenance of order”.

Animal welfare impossible to maintain in the field, training judged “opaque” producing beings “unstructured”echoes with the suffering at work of the police on the human side – which Sébastien Mouret underlines in conclusion of his study “armed mouths of the Republic”– it may be time to think about the end of the use of dogs in the police or the gendarmerie. But for all that, although they are devoid of sensitivity, require no training and pose no concern for retirement, should we rely on the alternative of robot dogs, some models of which are even equipped with assault rifles?

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