Time to shorten the dog squad’s leash

Late one evening, Scott Phillippo got off work at a restaurant in East Vancouver to find that his bike lock had been damaged.  Unable to open the lock he went back to his work and borrowed a pair of bolt cutters. Right after breaking through the lock a VPD officer and his dog, "Gus", arrived on the scene. Thinking that Mr. Philippo was stealing the bike the officer attempted to arrest him, and in the process lost control of his dog.

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Using the law as a catalyst for positive social change, Pivot Legal Society works to improve the lives of marginalized communities.

Today I served a lawsuit on the City of Vancouver on behalf of Mr. Philippo, who sustained serious bite wounds to his torso during the incident.  Unfortunately, he is just one of the many people who have come to Pivot in the last two years with complaints about the misuse of police dogs. The injuries that people receive from these dogs can result in life-long scars and trauma. After seeing a pattern of police dog misuse and innocent people like Mr. Philippo bitten by accident we believe it’s time for the VPD to reign in its use of the dog squad.

Pivot has launched a policy complaint asking for a full investigation into VPD policies related to the use of police dogs. Since its inception in 1959 the VPD dog squad has trained its dogs to use the “bite and hold” technique, where a dog is commanded to bite a suspect and hold that bite as hard as they can until the handler commands them to let go. Over the last 10 years the training of police dogs in many jurisdictions around the world has been modified to focus on the “find and bark” technique, where a dog locates an individual and first barks at them instead of biting. In fact in 2001 the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice actually recommended that all U.S. police squads change their training to “find and bark” in light of civil rights abuses in Cincinnati.

With the International Association of Police Chiefs endorsing the “find and bark” method, and the mistakes made in Mr. Philippo’s arrest, we at Pivot can’t help but wonder if the VPD has fallen behind the times in deploying their police dogs. These are some of the concrete changes we are asking for in order to protect public safety:

  1. That VPD police dogs only be deployed when investigating or arresting “serious offenders”, in cases where a suspect is armed, or where the officer has a reasonable belief the suspect has the potential to use force or cause harm to the officer, the subject or others.
  2. That the VPD write into its policy that a solo officer with police dog is not to make an arrest if the use of the police dog is not required.
  3. That the VPD begin keeping a record of “dog bite ratios”, meaning a record of how many times a handler/dog attend to a scene or is deployed v. how many times a suspect is bitten by the dog. 
  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" given the recommendations of the U.S. Department of Justice and International Association of Chiefs of Police.

Mr. Philippo doesn’t hold a grudge against the VPD for what happened, but he hopes that his case can be used to bring attention to this issue and to make changes that could help prevent this kind of thing from happening to someone else.