Originally published by Josh Cain – Los Angeles Daily News. Photo: A new bronze statue outside LAPD Headquarters after an unveiling ceremony, Thursday, May 25, 2023. The statue is in honor of the four police K-9s lost in the line of duty. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)
Officer Christopher Jones waddled out in a thick, padded body suit to a green space in the courtyard of the Los Angeles Police Department’s towering headquarters downtown on Thursday, May 25.
He stood staring warily as Bentley, one of the department’s police dogs, lay on the grass opposite him. On command from his handler, Bentley surged forward.
With a leap, Bentley sprung up and bit Jones’ left arm.
With Bentley still clamping tightly on his arm, Jones, one of LAPD’s K-9 handlers who regularly trains with Bentley and others swung the dog through the air in a circle before he deftly landed back on his paws.
The audience — all there to watch LAPD unveil a memorial for four of its police dogs killed while on duty performing searches for suspects — seemed unprepared to suddenly watch a dog go airborne.
Several gasped or chuckled, then applauded Bentley’s dexterity and tenacity.
“It’s really astounding what we see in these dogs,” said Sgt. Aron Algren, the lead dog trainer for LAPD’s K-9 unit.
Leading Thursday’s demonstration, Algren gave a hypothetical example of the work one LAPD police dog might perform in a day, from pursuing a suspect underneath a house in blazing hot weather in the San Fernando Valley, to running through the streets of San Pedro after another suspect hours later.
As Algren spoke, an ambulance wailed nearby. Bentley, who was eagerly waiting for his handler to allow him to fetch a ball, didn’t stop what he was doing at all.
“The dogs stay hyper-focused,” Algren said.
All four of the dogs honored on Thursday — Liberty, Marko, Richter and Rooster — were shot while searching for suspects. All died between 1981 and 1989.
Chief Michel Moore said he was still an officer in 1989 when he watched Liberty and his handler work together. He said part of the reason for Thursday’s memorial was celebrating the bond between handlers and their dogs.
“I’ve seen it personally,” he said. “They rely on each other.”
In the decade after its creation in 1980, LAPD’s K-9 unit came under intense criticism for how often police dogs were being employed against Black and brown L.A. residents, as well as for the high level of bites they were racking up.
Bites still happen, but after reforming the unit, the numbers of bites by LAPD dogs since then have been far lower.
On Thursday LAPD Captain Brian Bixler, who commands the department’s Metropolitan Division, said the rate of bites by the department’s dogs has come down to about 1-in-5 physical encounters with suspects.
Instead of biting, the K-9 unit trains its dogs to get as close as possible to the suspect while barking at them in an effort to get them to surrender. Only if the suspect moves their arm suddenly will the dogs bite, officials said Thursday.
Algren demonstrated how that works: With Jones, the K-9 officer, still in his protective suit, another dog, Dutch, approached him. On command, Dutch pressed his snout against Jones while barking and pushing against him.
When Jones moved his arm, Dutch jumped up and bit down on his bicep. After a few seconds, Dutch’s handler commanded him to stop.
“Dutch is going to let go,” Algren said.
Dutch continued to chomp.
“Eventually,” Algren said.
The audience laughed, and Dutch did indeed let go.