Police dog bites top injury list in B.C.: report

Dog bites top police injury list, need regulation: legal advocacy group

  • Jun. 26, 2014 11:00 a.m.

By Tamsyn Burgmann, The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER – Vancouver police dubbed their department’s new puppies as the “cutest crime fighters” even before launching a dog-naming contest for schoolchildren. Wayne Gretzky once posed with the Edmonton force’s canine unit on a Christmas card.

But the common strategy for connecting with the community is hardly warm and cuddly for a Vancouver legal advocacy group that issued a report concluding dogs are the leading cause of injury at the hands of police forces across British Columbia.

“Promotion, propaganda, whatever you want to call it,” said Douglas King, a lawyer with the society. “They’re using the animal side of the dog and the affectionate side of the dog to cover what they really are, which is tools that have the capacity to be deadly weapons.”

Pivot’s three-year study released Thursday examined the use of dog squads among municipal forces and the RCMP.

It said B.C. is alone in Canada when it comes to lacking regulations around the deployment of police dogs to help apprehend a suspect.

The group tallied data from the RCMP and the Office of the Police Complaints Commission, finding that at least 490 people were bitten and injured by police dogs between 2010 and 2012. It also said the harm inflicted during a takedown charted highest in Vancouver, followed by Abbotsford, and was lowest in Saanich and New Westminster.

Police departments with the lowest prevalence of bites appear to provide higher levels of training, said King, the report’s lead author. Some protocol suggests that dog handlers should call out a warning before releasing an animal, he said, but instead the report found there are no policies stipulating when a dog should be used.

The report, which includes interviews with victims, said dogs have sometimes been used even in cases of very minor crimes that may not involve any charges.

In B.C., the majority of forces train police service dogs with a method called bite-and-hold, as opposed to the other leading technique that simply sees the dog circle and bark, the report said.

“Our long-term goal here is to get to a place where all the departments are like the best departments, that best practices are being used across the province,” King said.

The report recommended standardizing record-keeping that tracks details of dog use and putting restrictions on how the dogs are deployed.

Andy Rowe, 51, was a drug addict in March 2007 when he was attacked by a police dog in a Langley, B.C., parking lot after he stole a DVD from a store.

“It was like a movie. A wild animal attacking you, ripping your face off, biting your ear off, puncturing your skull and hearing Velcro tear — and it’s actually your flesh that’s tearing,” the Surrey resident said.

“The dog was deployed as a weapon.”

The provincial government struck a working group last year to survey police dog regulations, but has not released information on its status.

A request for an interview resulted in a short statement from Justice Minister Suzanne Anton.

“Police dogs are an important, effective policing tool but like any tool, they must be used consistently and effectively,” Anton said, adding the province is in talks to finalize provincial standards with a focus on “appropriate deployment.”

RCMP spokesman Sgt. Rob Vermeulen said the force will continue to participate in the provincial review while also “continuously researching best practices.” He said the RCMP already reports all uses of force.

Owen Court, spokesman for the Independent Investigations Office, which investigates police-involved deaths and injuries, said the office takes on dog-bite cases only when they meet the severity threshold.

“It’s been our experience that police agencies err on the side of caution and over-report cases to us,” he said.

Vancouver Police declined to be interviewed, but a spokesman said the department was aware of Pivot’s concerns and noted the group filed a policy complaint on police dogs in 2011.

The group’s current report states the Vancouver dog bite rate is 14.75 bites per 100,000 people, or 22 per cent more bites than all other regions combined in B.C.

Minutes from a January 2012 meeting of the Vancouver Police Board show the policy review committee concluded that there was “rigorous accountability in place” and that no changes were required.

___

Follow @TamsynBurgmann on Twitter

Just Posted

Police encourage reporting of suspicious events following reports involving children

Terrace RCMP are asking the public to report any suspicious adult interactions… Continue reading

Soup kitchen sees “groundswell of community support”

Donations toward looming tax bill push non-profit back in the black

College buys a yurt to boost student success

Round tent-like structure part of college instructional shift

Terrace husband and wife honoured for saving each other’s lives

BC Ambulance presented each a Vital Link Award for separate incidents of CPR

Council supports lobby for fair share of cannabis tax revenue

The City of Terrace is throwing its support behind a West Kelowna… Continue reading

REPLAY: B.C. this week in video

In case you missed it, here’s a look at replay-worthy highlights from across the province this week

Police fear fewer fentanyl imports don’t signal the end of the overdose crisis

RCMP say it’s just as likely that criminal are getting more clever

UPDATE: Two people die in ATV accident south of Campbell River

Third person survived attempt to cross a creek

Coal dust escaping rail cars spurs B.C. petition

Local governments are on board with Shuswap resident’s request for better control of escaping particulate

Lawyers slam ‘de facto expulsion’ of student guilty of sexual interference

Calgary student guilty of sexual assault of a minor allowed to finish semester

B.C. NDP set to restructure union bargaining

School trustees to regain control over employer group

New development in missing plane near Revelstoke

The family of Ashley Bourgeault believe they have found a new clue

$130K could get you on a dive to the Titanic

Hot summer ticket: $130K could get you on a dive to the Titanic off Newfoundland

UK’s Princess Eugenie, daughter of Prince Andrew, engaged

Princess Eugenie, the daughter of Prince Andrew and his ex-wife Sarah Ferguson, will marry Jack Brooksbank in Autumn 2018

Most Read