Police dogs injure someone in B.C. every two days, says a new report released by the Pivot Legal Society.The report calls for the province to regulate the use of police dogs.
Pivot says dog bites cause more serious injuries every year than police batons, pepper spray and Tasers combined. And, frequently, those being injured are youths and innocent bystanders.
"We can't blame the dogs for this,” says Douglas King, a lawyer with Pivot Legal Society. “It’s the person at the front of the leash and not at the end of the leash who's responsible for the police dog."
Andrew Rowe was bitten by a police dog. In 2007 he had fallen on hard times and he stole a DVD. He says a police dog bit through his arm, and bit him again as he waited for an ambulance.
"If you've ever heard Velcro tearing, that's all I heard,” said Rowe. “And it was my skin being torn off the side of my face and my skull."
He lost his ear, and has required extensive reconstructive surgery. Rowe says he was shocked to hear from other people with similar experiences.
"I've seen some really brutal scars,” says Rowe. “The guy in Maple Ridge, the kid that stole an energy drink and they chewed his face off. I forget the other guy but he was bit hundreds of times down his body."
"Police dogs important, effective policing tool"
But some police forces say there are already enough checks and balances.The Vancouver police department says the national use of force model considers a dog an intermediate weapon.
According to the Vancouver Police, police officers must file an additional report detailing how and why a dog was used, and any injuries that occurred. If the injuries required emergency treatment, an additional report goes to the office of the police complaints commissioner.
In a written statement, Attorney General and Minister of Justice Suzanne Anton wrote, “Police dogs are an important, effective policing tool – but like any tool, they must be used consistently and effectively."
Her ministry set up the Police Dog Working Group, which is "currently in the process of finalizing provincial standards focused on appropriate deployment and other key matters."
Other police forces say they’ll look into the matter.
Victoria's police chief Frank Elsner says he welcomes public scrutiny on the issue to ensure the deployment of those resources are appropriate. He says the Pivot report will help inform him about policy changes that are under discussion.
"We're doing an internal review right now on canine,” says Elsner. “How we use them, not just from a deployment but under what circumstances we use them.”
WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGES
Pivot says police dogs and puppies are good public relations, but people should think of trained service dogs as deadly weapons.