WRITTEN BY MAYA SHAFFER
Facing significant reforms in the midst of nationwide protests and demands for more accountability, many police in Massachusetts have taken this historic moment to reflect on the deep issues that propelled the Black Lives Matter movement and raised calls for policing to change. They’ve thoughtfully put their most rational and compelling arguments forward to explain why the public should trust their sound judgement and allow for a continued lack of oversight.
In such pursuits, officers have launched a full-scale outrage and disinformation campaign, naturally using social media among other channels to spread propaganda. One popular meme that has been shared by countless officers and representatives from one of the state’s largest police unions claimed that legislators support Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev over law enforcement. In another case, a union leader commiserated with President Donald Trump over excessive force reforms, while innumerable cops have energized their supporters with scare tactics—including telling people that police dogs will be euthanized statewide if new officer accountability laws pass—and encouraged them to flood lawmakers with calls and emails.
Massachusetts lags behind the rest of the country on police accountability issues, but that could change soon. Legislators are working out the details of a reform bill that could curb qualified immunity, limit use of force by banning choke holds, ban dangerous no-knock warrants, and create citizen oversight boards and a process of state certification (and potential decertification) for police officers. Massachusetts, according to the ACLU and Mass Police Reform, is one of only four states that doesn’t require certification or licensing despite our state requiring licenses for over 50 other professions.
Lawmakers have apparently received notes about dogs being put down in response to a section in the reform bill that would potentially make police limit their use of canines to situations where a cop is in immediate danger, with that danger being proportional to the amount of danger a suspect would be in if a trained attack dog was released to harm them. The bill could also require that all injuries (instead of only serious ones) caused by police dogs must be documented. In response to the looming reforms, people in the Blue Lives Matter crowd circulated the following message (there are too many factual, spelling, and grammar errors to point out):
Your Massachusetts state legislatures in a rush to pass this Police Reform Bill have neglected to do due diligence and properly study the use of K9s here in this state. Because of that poor wording has been put in the Bill which will basically make the use of Patrol K9s obsolete. The end result of this because of liability will cause most smaller departments to end their K9 program and may result in the EUTHANIZATION of hundreds of police dogs just to save money from possible lawsuits. Please copy and paste the following in an email and dont forget to change the bottom to your city, town and add your name to email addresses provided immediately to prevent this from happening and also to your local state rep!
If the legislation ultimately includes provisions limiting the use of dogs, there is no reason that departments could no longer use the animals. Nevertheless, the pro-cop conspiracy crowd made enough noise to spur the American Kennel Club to release a statement in solidarity with police: “Massachusetts residents are encouraged to immediately email their state representative to express their support for the continued utilization of police K-9s by trained law enforcement handlers without requiring inappropriate reporting or use restrictions.”
Police dogs are primarily used because they can be trained to identify scents and help track people. But in their argument, Mass law enforcement leaders have shown that the main value they see in the four-legged assistants is the damage they can do, an admission that actually highlights the need for legislation to protect the public from cops with dogs. Setting that aside, if departments did stop using dogs, they could just adopt them out as pets.
On the other hand, cops in this country already kill a lot of dogs anyway. As a Slate investigation from July found, “Looking at the location of where dogs have been shot across the city and county of Los Angeles, what emerges is a map of deadly police use of force that is highly concentrated in the region’s most impoverished communities of color. In fact, the dog-shooting cluster that we mapped sits within the larger cluster representing where humans are shot by police as well.”
As for cops threatening to kill their own dogs, the tactic has been used before. A Washington Post headline in 2018 read, “Illinois police: Keep pot illegal—or we’ll kill the dog.”