Senate Bill 495 was prompted by an incident in August 2017 in which Columbia County jailers utilized a canine to extract inmate Christopher Bartlett from his cell after he refused to comply with deputies’ demands.
New sheriff, Brian Pixley, took office in Columbia County in January 2019. The Chief spoke with Pixley to see where the Columbia County Jail stands on the issue now under his new administration.
Chief: When you took office, did you personally address this issue? What is your stance, and the jail’s stance, on the use of canines within the jail?
Pixley: I believe that canines within the jail can be a useful tool when used properly. However, in March 2019, I stopped the use of canines in our jail for cell extractions and intimidation purposes. I believe our jail will be better off with a cell extraction team made up of patrol and corrections deputies specially trained to handle non-compliant and combative inmates. We have two employees attending a cell extraction management course to help us get this program up and running and have written and adopted policies regarding the use of cell extraction teams within the jail.
Chief: Do you have any thoughts on the bill itself? Since this stemmed from an incident at our jail, how do you feel about this bill coming to fruition? Is it necessary?
Pixley: Canines are a tool for law enforcement and I am cautious about mandating restrictions on their use. We have done our part by ensuring guidelines are in place for the proper use of canines and do not believe this bill is necessary.
Chief: Is there anything else you think our readers should know about this issue?
Pixley: Working in a jail or prison comes with its own set of stressors and dangers that are unlike any other profession. We are not only charged with keeping inmates in jail for whatever crime they were arrested or sentenced for, but we also must keep them safe from other inmates and from themselves. We try to utilize a number of different techniques from de-escalation tactics, such as talking them down, all the way to using force – if necessary. Our goal is to utilize the least restrictive tactic to gain compliance from an inmate.