NATIONAL NEWS

In the doghouse: A member of Santa Fe’s K-9 unit is the focus of an internal affairs investigation

Jun 8, 2024, 3:28 PM

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — As a puppy, there were high hopes for Ayke to help revive the Santa Fe Police Department’s K-9 program. Now, four years later, the German shepherd is in the doghouse.

He has bitten more people than any other dog in the department’s K-9 unit and is the subject of an internal affairs investigation into an attack in March on one of the department’s own officers. The city also is defending against a lawsuit filed by an officer who underwent plastic surgery after being attacked during a 2022 training exercise, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported.

Police Chief Paul Joye declined a request by the newspaper for an interview, and the investigation is ongoing into the latest incident involving Ayke, who is one of four dogs used by the department.

Like other law enforcement agencies across the nation, the Santa Fe police force contends that K-9 units can be helpful when trying to detect illicit drugs or explosive materials or apprehend suspects.

Several states earlier this year were considering legislative proposals that would impose tougher penalties for harming or killing police dogs, with supporters noting that thousands of dollars are spent on training and that in many cases the animals are like family to their handlers.

Still, injuries caused by the animals have made headlines in Ohio, Utah and elsewhere in recent years.

The Marshall Project noted in 2020 that while there was no national database for tracking the use of K-9s, an investigation found that bites were documented in nearly every state. The nonprofit group also noted that excessive force lawsuits over dog bites are difficult to win, as police officers are often shielded from liability and federal civil rights laws don’t typically cover bystanders who are bitten by mistake.

In Santa Fe, Ayke is still on the job. Deputy Police Chief Ben Valdez wrote in an email that the department is confident the dog doesn’t represent a danger to the public.

In response to a question about the potential drawbacks of using the dogs, Valdez responded: “Police K-9s are a valuable asset for our community, when properly utilized there are no cons.”

The police department purchased each of the animals for about $4,400 and paid $2,200 for their initial certification course, Valdez said. The department spends about $4,800 annually on dog food and another $2,000 on veterinarian care.

The department requires K-9 units to complete at least 320 hours of training per year and for handlers to undergo physical and psychological well-being testing. The police dogs are certified by the Arizona-based National Police Canine Association.

Every bite by a police dog must be documented, according to Santa Fe’s policy. Those instances are reviewed to determine if policy was followed and if any corrective action for the handler is needed, Valdez said.

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In the doghouse: A member of Santa Fe’s K-9 unit is the focus of an internal affairs investigation