Vancouver, B.C. [June 26] — Police dogs are the number one source of injury caused by police forces in British Columbia, according to a new report from Pivot Legal Society.
The report, entitled "Moving To Minimum Force: Police Dogs and Public Safety in British Columbia," compiles more than two years of provincial police data, detailing the deployment of police service dogs and their impact on public safety. The report finds that, on average, a person in B.C. is bitten by a police dog every other day. Between 2010 and 2012, there were 490 people bitten and injured by police dogs. This accounts for police service dogs deployed by both the RCMP and municipal police departments, though the report also finds that many bites still go unreported and the total number may be higher.
Vancouver was responsible for nearly 22% more bites than all other service regions combined, and its dog squad was responsible for 80% of all police dog bites in urban areas. As clients of Pivot Legal Society described in interviews for the report, many of these police dog bites led to serious and permanent injury.
"Unlike other police impact weapons such as fists and batons, police dogs are unique in their tendency to inflict devastating and permanent injury," says Douglas King, lawyer with Pivot Legal Society and author of the report. "We should not be viewing them as friendly ambassadors of policing, but as potentially deadly weapons."
For more than three years Pivot Legal Society has been interviewing dozens of individuals to determine who is being affected by police service dog bites and under what circumstances they were injured. In 2013, Pivot Legal Society sued the RCMP on behalf of Bill Evanow, a Maple Ridge, B.C. resident who was seriously injured in March, 2011 by a police dog bite after being mistaken for a suspected car thief. Other victims, such as Andrew Rowe, reported excessive force being used by police service dogs. Rowe lost his left ear and part of his hearing after a police dog attacked his head while he was on the ground. Rowe had already been arrested for shoplifting and maintains that officers released the dog on him on purpose.
“I will have these scars and injuries for the rest of my life, and every three to five years I will need surgery just to try and maintain what little hearing I have left,” says Rowe, who has recovered from problems with addiction and now operates his own business. “I think everyone deserves a second chance, and if the officers could see who I am now they never would have set that dog on me.”
The report found that the use of police service dogs is largely unregulated in the province, with some departments reporting far more bites than others. Saanich and New Westminster, for instance, provide training unique to other jurisdictions that has resulted in significantly lower rates of police dog bites.
"The province's own data points to a clear need to institute strict regulations around the training and deployment of police dogs to protect the public from unnecessary injury," says King.
Based on the report's findings, Pivot Legal Society proposes a series of recommendations that ask for better record-keeping practices, restrictions on how the dogs can be deployed, and changes to the way dogs are trained.
In 2013 the Deputy Minister of Justice struck a working-group to investigate police dog regulation, but has not released any of their findings.
A gallery of images from the report are available here: [Flikr Album]
For additional information or to schedule an interview, please contact:
Kevin Hollett, Communications Manager
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About Pivot Legal Society
Pivot Legal Society is a Vancouver-based non-profit organization that uses the law to address the root causes of poverty and social exclusion. Pivot’s work includes challenging laws and policies related to sex worker rights, health and drug, housing and homelessness, and police accountability. Pivot's policing campaign is working toward an end to police investigations of allegations of police misconduct, while also seeking opportunities to promote dialogue between officers and the communities they police. Pivot also actively monitors the impacts of B.C.’s growing private security industry on marginalized communities.