Indiana police officer caught on camera allegedly abusing K-9 partner

A police officer from Hammond, Indiana, has been placed on paid administrative leave and has had his K-9 partner removed from his care after a disturbing video surfaced on the Internet last week.

In the cell phone video, which was shot by a concerned Hammond citizen and then uploaded to YouTube last Wednesday, a Hammond Police officer can be seen hitting his K-9 partner with its leash and then using that leash to lift the German Shepherd up off of the ground, where it dangles by its neck. The officer then uses the end of the leash to strike the dog repeatedly on its midsection. The K-9 struggles and swings a bit before the officer releases the dog, and the two walk back to their waiting squad car.

Once released, the video immediately went viral, many members of the Northwest Indiana community demanding justice for what many interpret as cruel and unnecessary abuse of an animal.

Even the mayor of Hammond, Thomas McDermott, Jr., voiced his disapproval of the unnamed officer’s actions.

“Anybody who loves dogs as much as I do is saddened and shocked when you hear or see a dog being abused,” Mayor McDermott said in a statement following the leak of the horrifying video. “When you find out that it happens with an employee of yours, it makes it that much more shocking and disturbing.”

Kristina Montgomery of the Humane Society Calumet Area in Munster, Ind., tells NBC 5 News the officer’s poor treatment of his K-9 could very well have lasting effects.

“It’s certainly not any training I would condone or urge anyone to follow,” Montgomery says. “Lifting a dog like that off the ground can do damage to the training itself, but also to the dog’s physical health.”

Public outcry prompted quick response from the Hammond Police Department, who will continue to investigate the incident further.

“The Hammond Police Department has reviewed a recent YouTube video concerning a Hammond Police K-9 officer. The involved officer has been placed on administrative leave pending a full investigation,” Hammond Police Lieutenant Richard Hoyda tells the Northwest Indiana Times. “At this time, the department has observed behavior by the K-9 handler that appears to be inconsistent with acceptable training guidelines.”

But some dog trainers disagree, including Bob Anderson, trainer with West Palm Beach, Florida’s K9 International LLC. Anderson has worked with the police departments in nearby Griffith and Hobart, Ind., training K-9 officers for 35 years.

“It’s all about positive and negative reinforcement with these animals, and you have to train them with physical praise or discipline,” Anderson tells the Post-Tribune. “Some dogs are thick-headed and can take harder correction, while others respond immediately.”

“Discipline is measured around the sensitivity of the dog, but if they don’t feel it and hear it, they don’t get it,” he adds, explaining that if the K-9 doesn’t respond, the department and the town could be held liable for injuries or mistakes caused by the dog.

“The dogs we get from Europe are very high-drive dogs, and verbal correction only has some effect. You have to be able to teach them right from wrong,” Anderson says.

It is that high drive that can make it much harder to control police dogs using typical methods, says K-9 dog trainer and owner of Landheim Training and Boarding Center in Dyer, Ind., Bob Fleming.

“Their drive is so high, control techniques for an average pet wouldn’t necessarily work,” Fleming says.

Fleming calls the hanging technique the Hammond Police Officer used on his dog “a choke-off,” which Fleming says should only be used as a last resort.

“I don’t like to see a trainer use a choke-off too much because over time, it could result in injury,” Fleming explains.

He also says that by lifting the dog off of the ground and striking it roughly, the Hammond officer was not performing the “choke-off” maneuver properly anyway.

Another K-9 trainer, Pat McInerney of Macs K9 in Crete, Illinois, says that if the dog attempting to bite someone, then the way the officer handled it by its leash and collar was appropriate.

“If that dog was trying to bite, biting is a ‘hanging offense,’ and we will choke them out to get them to come to their senses because that shows the animal who’s in control,” McInerney says.

McInerney does not approve of the officer using the leash to hit the K-9, however.

Sources: Post-Tribune, Northwest Indiana Times, NBC 5 News