Canines Used as Weapons – VPD Dismisses Concerns

By Carlito Pablo, January 26, 2012                   Georgia Straight

Police dogs are biting and hurting people more often than cops are injuring civilians with firearms, Tasers, batons, and old-fashioned hand blows combined.

In the case of Christopher Evans, a dog ripped open his leg. He had to be sedated and undergo surgery. It took about 100 staples to close his deep wounds.

The Vancouver police let a dog loose on Evans after the construction worker broke a bus window in frustration when he was passed up by four buses last summer. “He got absolutely destroyed,” Evans’s lawyer, Doug King, told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.

Figures received by King from the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner show that police-dog bites account for almost half of the 346 “reportable injuries”, or police-related incidents, requiring medical treatment, between March 31, 2010, and January 17, 2012, in B.C.

There were 162 incidents involving dog bites during this period. But that doesn’t provide the whole picture. The OPCC covers only municipal police forces; it doesn’t have jurisdiction over or relevant statistics for the RCMP.

King, a lawyer with Pivot Legal Society, knew there are a lot of injuries happening due to the use of police dogs, but the numbers still stunned him. “We had an indication that it would be more than you would expect,” King said. “And I think from our experience of just having a lot of people come in around dog bites, we knew that there was a problem. But I think to find out that it accounts for almost 50 percent of all injuries is pretty shocking.”

The 162 incidents involving police canines constitute the biggest category of injuries in the OPCC data.

Second are the 80 cases of “empty hand” use of force. The rest of the injuries are categorized as “self-inflicted” (41), or caused by beanbags fired from Arwen guns (19), motor-vehicle accidents (8), baton (7), Taser (4), firearm (2), preexisting condition (2), and “others” (21).

King also represents Scott Philippo, who sued the City of Vancouver last year over injuries he suffered from a police dog when he was arrested by mistake.

The city wants to settle the Philippo case. King is insisting that there should be none of the usual gag orders included in these settlements. “The public needs to know,” he said. “We’re going to push pretty hard for that. I don’t know if that’s going to be a deal breaker.”

King also filed a service and policy complaint regarding the use of police dogs by the Vancouver Police Department. The complaint was dismissed by the police board in a meeting on January 18 this year.

A report submitted to the board by Chief Constable Jim Chu expressed pride in the department’s dog team.

“The Vancouver Police Dog Squad is the oldest municipal K-9 section in Canada,” Chu’s report read. “The Dog Squad was established in 1957 as a trial program and has been fully operational since 1959. Today, the Dog Squad is comprised of 18 handler teams and is the second largest K-9 section in Canada, consisting of 16 constables and two sergeants.”

Chu’s report also noted that the dog squad, which employs only German shepherds, is “a leader in training, best practices and accountability”.

It also dismissed changes suggested by Pivot. One proposal was that the VPD deploy dogs only when investigating or arresting serious offenders.

The organization also recommended that an officer working alone with a police dog should not make an arrest if the use of the police dog is not required. Pivot likewise suggested a review of the VPD’s training of its dogs with an eye to shifting from the “bite and hold” technique to “find and bark”.

According to Chu’s report to the police board, the VPD’s dog squad is “a professional and respected section within the police K-9 community”.

Today (January 26), King is serving notice to the City of Vancouver that Evans has filed a civil claim before the B.C. Supreme Court. Evans is seeking general and special damages for his injuries and loss of income and earning capacity.

According to the notice of civil claim filed at the Vancouver registry on December 12, 2011, Evans was riding his skateboard on his way home in the Downtown Eastside after the window-breaking incident on June 12, 2011, when a police dog “made contact”.

The dog was not on a leash. After the initial bite on Evans’s lower right leg, the dog released and then bit him again on the upper right leg many times. The animal “began thrashing” and “ripping and tearing” the man’s skin and muscle tissue.

According to the statement of facts, Evans saw a lone police constable when he was on the ground. He yelled at the officer to stop the dog. The cop approached but did not call off the canine, according to Evans’s claim. Instead, the officer grabbed the dog by the head, and stepped on Evans’s lower left leg.

The constable ordered Evans to roll over on his stomach, and the latter complied. He was then placed in handcuffs. It was only after that the officer ordered the dog to let go of Evans.

Evans was held overnight at Vancouver General Hospital. Crown counsel entered a stay of proceedings on the charge of mischief against him on September 29, 2011.

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