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Thursday, June 13, 2024

Gainesville city manager resuspends police K-9 unit 2 weeks after reinstatement

Unit under review

The city’s short-lived reinstatement of its K-9 unit ended Friday after it was pulled due to community concerns and demands for transparency.

City Manager Cynthia Curry announced the new hiatus of the Gainesville Police Department’s K-9 force two weeks after it was reinstated. The unit’s status will be reevaluated when city staff creates the budget for the next fiscal year.

The decision to take a hiatus will give the city time to develop an approach toward the K-9 unit that centers around community input, Curry said in a release.“This affords us the opportunity to reassess how best to serve our neighbors,” she said, “We will involve the community going forward.”

GPD initially suspended the unit after staff restructuring in December, when it saw a leadership change as well as the retirement of one of its K-9s. After its reinstatement, the unit was looking to hire an additional five handlers within the month.

Instead, GPD Chief Lonnie Scott said the unit will cooperate by pausing until the city reaches its decision.“During this time, we will reassign the officers based on the best needs of the department,” Scott said in the release. “The canines will remain in the care of their handlers until such time a decision is made.”

Reinstatement Feb. 17 drew criticism due to a series of controversies the unit saw in recent years, including the mauling of Gainesville resident Terrell Bradley, internal investigations finding inappropriate conversations about the event and federal lawsuits alleging the unit had a racist culture.

Days after GPD announced the reinstatement of the unit Feb. 20, local activists attended the city’s Police Advisory Council meeting Feb. 22.

After public input, the council decided to prioritize addressing the K-9 unit, rescheduling a discussion on it from May to March.

Gainesville resident and local activist Danielle Chanzes said the public’s efforts in fighting the reinstatement led to the decision and to future input.

“It feels like the community’s calls to actions and cries for help are finally being listened to and understood,” she said.

The city should evaluate if the unit is financially reasonable as well, she added. 

Both residents and commissioners seemed to call for greater transparency.

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GPD currently displays annual use of force reports on its website, though 2022’s report isn’t yet available as of March 5. The department also offers videos looking at training, though they are edited.

Gainesville resident Rodney Carroll, 76, expected occasional issues to come up with the dogs, he said. 

The former Army Special Forces member and Seminole County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. said while he thinks suspending the full unit is unreasonable, the city should seek out experts to ensure the handlers are properly trained.

“Someone independent of GPD needs to review how these dogs are trained, how the handlers are trained and see if there’s some fault on their part,.” Caroll said.

Inviting citizens and the media to publicly observe training could help restore trust, he added.

City commissioners hope additional meetings will allow for a better local understanding of what needs the K-9 unit has to meet.

District 1 Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker, who represents most of East Gainesville, said the suspension was an opportunity to better connect the city to locals’ needs.

“I am interested in having a conversation about what we might be able to do to give our neighbors and citizens of Gainesville the opportunity to engage with us,” she said.

Gainesville’s Public Safety Committee will have a meeting to further address the K-9 unit March 27. It will be held at 1 p.m. at Gainesville City Hall.

Contact Aidan Bush at abush@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @aidandisto.

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Aidan Bush

Aidan Bush is a third-year journalism major and the Spring 2024 Engagement Managing Editor of The Alligator. In his free time, he likes to listen to music and go kayaking.


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