Pivot Legal Society - Equality Lifts Everyone

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Pivot launches complaint against VPD’s use of Police Dogs

Vancouver, April 28, 2011 - Pivot Legal Society has launched a service and policy complaint asking the Vancouver Police Board and Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner to investigate the Vancouver Police Department’s policies related to the use of police dogs. The complaint alleges that current policies lead to excessive use of force and endanger public safety.

Pivot has received nine complaints related to use of police dogs in Vancouver and other B.C. jurisdictions in just the last two years, and is demanding comprehensive reform on how the dogs are deployed. The complaint is being launched on the same day that Pivot has served the City of Vancouver with a personal injury lawsuit on behalf of Scott Philippo, a Vancouver man who was accidentally bitten after a VPD officer lost control of his police dog.

In October, 2010 Philippo was breaking through a damaged lock on his own bike when he was approached by a member of the VPD with a police dog. Mr. Philippo was asked to remove himself from his bike. During the incident, the officer lost control of his dog and it bit Mr. Philippo, who sustained significant injuries to his torso. Pivot sees Mr. Philippo’s case as a prime example of the problem of police dog misuse.

“After receiving numerous complaints about unwarranted or unnecessary police dog bites we feel it is time the VPD reigned in its use of the dog squad” says Douglas King, staff lawyer at Pivot Legal Society and head of the policing campaign. “The injuries that people receive from these dogs can result in life-long scars and trauma; it is time we asked ourselves just how necessary these practices are”.

Pivot has recommended the following changes to VPD policies related to police dogs in order to better protect the public:
1.    That police dogs only be deployed when investigating or arresting suspects involved in "serious offences".
2.    That the VPD write into its policy that a solo officer with police dog is not to physically make an arrest if the use of the police dog is not required.
3.    That police begin to track dog bite ratios.  This means recording how many times a dog is deployed and how many times a suspect is bitten by the dog and comparing the ratio to the general population of police dogs. Dog bite ratios are used to determine whether certain dogs are prone to overly aggressive behaviour.
4.    That the VPD conduct a systemic review on whether or not they should change the training of police dogs to focus on the "find and bark" technique versus the "bite and hold" technique to deal with suspects who are fleeing.  The “find and bark” technique has replaced the “bite and hold” technique in many jurisdictions, including across the United States where the U.S. Department of Justice made a recommendation in 2001 that all police departments make the change.

“I don’t hold a grudge against the VPD for what happened, I know it was a mistake” says Scott Philippo, “but I think these changes could really help prevent this kind of thing from happening to someone like me in the future”  

Contact:  Douglas King 778-898-6349