BY KYLE MARTIN
Daily Post Staff Writer
Palo Alto police dogs bit five people in two years during the 350 times police dogs were sent out on cases, according to a memo Chief Robert Jonsen sent to City Council yesterday following criticism over a police dog attack of an innocent man.
Jonsen wrote that his department’s two canine teams — a dog and an officer — each spend up to 60 hours per month training their dogs. He said police dogs are used to search and find wanted suspects or evidence, and can be used to bite and hold a suspect if police deem it necessary.
Jonsen wrote that “the vast majority of the time” police dogs don’t bite people.
Police dogs can be dispatched for use when police need help searching places where officers don’t feel safe, such as crawl spaces or somewhere where an armed suspect is barricaded, Jonsen wrote. They can also be sent out for “their mere presence” during an arrest to coax a suspect into surrendering, or to help find explosives, evidence or a suspect in a case. They are also used for public relations situations, such as visiting neighborhood block parties, Jonsen said.
Palo Alto’s police dog teams have come under fire because of the June 25 attack on Joel Domingo Alejo. The attack happened when Mountain View police were searching for a kidnapper in the 1900 block of Elsie Ave. Mountain View asked Palo Alto for the use of one of its canine teams. Police searched the home with the permission of another resident who wasn’t aware Alejo was alseep in the backyard.
Police discovered, after Alejo was bitten deeply enough to expose fat cells on his leg, that they had the wrong man.
Residents of both cities have scrutinized both cities for the attack, while some have called for the DA to file criminal charges against Palo Alto Police Agent Nick Enberg, who was the dog handler in the Alejo case.
Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen’s office previously said it would not file charges against any officers in the incident.
Others have said the city should fire Enberg.
Jonsen will appear before council on April 5 to discuss a range of police issues including the department’s canine policy.
In the memo, he said each of the city’s two canine teams attend an initial four-week state-certified course together before being used in the field.
After that first training course, each team participates in twice-monthly training with police canine teams from police departments in Stanford, Redwood City, Los Altos, Menlo Park and East Palo Alto.
And he wrote that each dog has to individually qualify annually in “certain basic patrol tasks,” which differ from “specialty assignments, such as explosives detection, that require additional multi-week training and qualifications.”