My second day volunteering at Pivot, Doug King, head of the policing campaign, showed me a picture of a man’s swollen, bloody, bitten leg. It made my stomach turn. Then Doug told me that the man had been bitten by a police dog and that it had taken about 100 staples to close the wound. The medical staff said the bite had come dangerously close to a major artery. My first thought was, thank goodness that guy didn’t bleed to death. My second thought was, how did this happen in the first place? No matter how serious the crime, does a person deserve to be bitten by a police dog so ferociously that he nearly died right there in the street?
Improving police accountability
Two weeks later, we got word that someone else had been bitten by a police dog, in Prince George. The bite was serious, the person was hospitalized and released, but this time the person in question was a 12 year old girl. A TWELVE YEAR OLD GIRL. I felt sick again. However, in my short time volunteering with Pivot I have come to learn that this scenario is shockingly commonplace. Kids who commit crimes and run are being chased by police dogs and often, as a result of the way the dogs are trained, are bitten and severely injured in the process of being apprehended. This girl’s family maintains that she was not running when the police dog found her, and that she told the officer she was 12 years old before the dog was allowed to bite her. Police dogs in Prince George and in Vancouver and in most other cities in this province are trained to bite and hold the suspect, sometimes with such force that the person must be hospitalized and treated for injuries. This girl was bitten severely enough to need sutures to close the wound. The charges against her were ultimately stayed.
Pivot’s research has shown that from March 2011 to January 2012, 46% of all serious injuries caused by police and reported by municipal police departments were the result of police dog bites (this doesn’t even include statistics from the RCMP, which would certainly raise the count). In the same reports in the last two years, thirteen young people between the ages of 14-18 have been hospitalized after being bitten by police dogs. The girl in Prince George is in addition to that number. That’s fourteen kids too many, in my opinion. It’s time for the RCMP in Prince George and the rest of the province to recognize that they are not the arbiters of justice. Their job, along with their dogs, is to apprehend the suspect as safely as possible for all parties involved and to deliver that suspect to the next step of the process, whether that be juvenile detention, a courtroom, or back home safely to their family or guardian--not to the hospital to treat a possible life-threatening wound.
Pivot Legal Society, Carrier Sekani Tribal Council, Carrier Sekani Family Services, the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, and the family of the young girl all calling for a significant change that addresses when and how police dogs can be used against children and youth. Check out the joint statement issues by the groups this morning by clicking here.