New Orleans suspends use of police dogs

Brett Michael Dykes

The much-maligned New Orleans Police Department already had plenty of pockmarks on its public record. And now comes this news: An officer has pleaded guilty to cruelty to animals after he locked a police dog in a squad car on a blistering-hot day. The dog died. The ensuing public uproar has prompted the department to suspend the use of canines until officers have received the "appropriate training" to handle them.

New Orleans Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas instituted the suspension after a review by the Department of Justice. Justice attorneys are essentially embedded within the NOPD these days to root out its many layers of corruption.

During the moratorium, NOPD officers will borrow K-9 units from the neighboring Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Department if they need a dog to make an arrest, an NOPD spokeswoman told the Times-Picayune.

Officer Jason Lewis, who was originally charged with a felony and pleaded to a misdemeanor, was sentenced to a suspended six-month jail term and was ordered to pay $11,500 in restitution to the Police Department for the death of Primo, a 6-year-old Belgian Malinois.

Meanwhile, another NOPD K-9, named Phantom, died last year after falling 17 stories down an elevator shaft, the Times-Picayune said. Local prosecutors dismissed animal malfeasance charges against Phantom's human partner, Randy Lewis (no relation to Jason Lewis), but left open the possibility of bringing new charges.

Law enforcement authorities all over the world use dogs -- with German shepherd and Belgian Malinois breeds being the most common -- for tasks including suspect apprehension, search-and-rescue operations and bomb detection. And their human police partners usually treat the dogs with utmost respect, up to and including full police funerals when the animals are killed in the line of duty.

(Photo of K-9 training: Getty)