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Police Dog Bites Cost City $2.6 Million : LAPD: Council OKs funds but some members object to fact that convicted criminals will share in the settlement.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Los Angeles City Council agreed Tuesday to set aside $2.6 million to settle claims by people who were bitten by police dogs, and plans to add another $1 million to the settlement once reforms the plaintiffs are seeking are in place.

The council voted 11 to 3 to fund the settlement reached with attorney Barry Litt and several civil rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People. The 55 plaintiffs--most of them minorities--alleged that they were victims of excessive force as a result of being attacked by Los Angeles police dogs between 1989 and August, 1992.

The additional $1 million for the settlement will be set aside once agreement is reached on reforms about the future use of the LAPD K-9 unit.

Deputy City Atty. Mary Thornton House said she was confident that an agreement on the reforms will be reached in the next few weeks. Still on the table are questions about how future canine cases are to be monitored and reported to the public, House said. She declined to be more specific.

“The bulk of the reforms (sought by the plaintiffs) are already in place,” House added.

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The city has had a canine corps since 1981. It consists of 15 to 17 dogs and is involved in about 2,000 arrests each year.

In August, 1992, amid growing complaints LAPD dogs were mauling suspects, the Police Department adopted new guidelines.

The tougher rules have included a commitment to retrain the dogs to first bark, not bite, after locating a suspect; having officers warn suspects before the dogs are turned loose to pursue them, and putting electronic collars on the animals that would allow handlers to shock the dogs if they are unable to control them with verbal commands.

With the new guidelines, the number of problems has declined, House said.

Councilman Nate Holden expressed outrage at the way the dogs had been used in the past. “The dogs are not there to do anything more than seek out the criminal--not to eat them once they find them,” he said.

Others, however, were not so sympathetic.

“My problem is that all plaintiffs are being rewarded,” said Councilman Joel Wachs, who voted against the settlement. “Some of the plaintiffs who suffered damage were out-and-out criminals,” Wachs said.

It was also disclosed under questioning by Councilman Rudy Svorinich Jr., who also opposed the settlement, that only four of the 55 were innocent bystanders--one a woman in her 70s.

About half the victims were later convicted of crimes or found to have violated parole, House said.

In light of such disclosures, Councilman Hal Bernson proposed that the settlement be amended to allow that only people not subsequently convicted of crimes related to their apprehension by the dogs be paid damages.

But that proposal failed on a 7-7 vote, and Bernson also finally voted against the settlement.


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