FREE e-Newsletter
Important News - Hot Topics
Get them Now!

Compression Tactical Bra - Cheata Tactical
Patented technology is designed to provide the stability of 2-3 sports bras,...

Features

Can We Minimize K-9 Deaths?

Police dogs are being killed in the line of duty at an alarming rate. It's hoped better tactics and techniques could help slow the trend.

April 08, 2016  |  by - Also by this author

Photo: Carla Blazek
Photo: Carla Blazek

In 2015, 27 police dogs were killed on duty, compared to an average of 10 dogs killed each year 15 years ago. This year, eight police K-9s were killed in January alone.

"Police violence is on the increase it seems, and there is more anger toward police. Perhaps some of this is manifesting itself in violence toward the police service dog," says Dr. David "Lou" Ferland, a retired police chief, longtime K-9 handler and trainer, and current executive director of the United States Police Canine Association (USPCA).

There is no required formal reporting system for K-9 deaths in the line of duty as there is for human law enforcement officers, so some K-9 deaths in previous years may have gone unreported. Nowadays, each K-9 duty death is shared almost immediately via social media and broadcast on the local news.

Whatever the trend may be, there is no doubt that law enforcement wishes to make efforts to prevent unnecessary K-9 deaths whenever possible.

Inherent Danger

Law enforcement is a dangerous profession, but some details are more hazardous than others, and on a more frequent basis.

"The K-9 guys are the ones exposed to the most dangerous situations by far," says Officer Craig Hamilton of the Spokane (WA) Police Department's K-9 Unit. "By contrast, yeah, SWAT is in a high-risk situation, but SWAT is able to control and slow things down more. Tracking is the most dangerous thing we do. The last K-9 at our agency to be shot was shot on a track."

Many K-9 operations involve violent individuals whose motivations and even whereabouts are often unknown. Handlers, K-9s, and all officers involved could be doing everything by the book, but there are always surprises.

"In most cases, it looks like tactics were used appropriately," says Ashabranner regarding recent K-9 duty deaths. "Sometimes the bottom line is, when suspects make their mind up that they're going to take out the police, it's just a hard thing to eliminate."

This is why it's so important for handlers and their K-9s to continually prepare themselves and those they work with for how to handle different types of encounters.

"Officers need to do as much scenario-based training as possible, watch for behavior changes in the dog,  and have adequate backup to support them," says Rick Ashabranner, Master Trainer and president of the North American Police Work Dog Association (NAPWDA). "Do everything in your power to eliminate anything that could go wrong."

Sharing Best Practices

As is the case for any law enforcement position, constantly innovating and improving tactics is imperative for success and survival. "That's the biggest way of saving dogs and handlers: Think of new ways of doing things and share them," says Hamilton. "That's why we hold our yearly advanced handler school; to expose others to the way we do things and ways we have found that work."

If you don't have something similar in your immediate area, you can seek out something farther afield. Individual departments and associations hold events across the country where K-9 handlers can meet and share ideas. For example, the United States Police Canine Association and its different regions and districts sponsor certifications and seminars throughout the year. 

"NAPWDA holds state workshops as well as the weeklong North American Police Work Dog Association National Workshop each year," says Ashabranner. "That brings all the officers and handlers together. They get to train with master trainers and share methodologies, to be the best teams they can be."

After attending a Los Angeles County SWAT K-9 school, Spokane PD K-9 handlers brought back a tactic that they practiced with their SWAT team and now use on the street regularly. "We used to always send our dog out to the first room, down him, and then the team would move up to the dog. But they had some good examples of why you should call the dog back to you and then move up," explains Hamilton. "We used to down him in a hallway where we could see him, with the thought that maybe the suspect would come out and the dog could get him. But if the suspect starts a gunfight and the dog is there, he might engage with the wrong person."

Hamilton feels it's important to distinguish when something is a "dog problem" and when it's not a "dog problem." Otherwise it can cause unnecessary safety issues, as in this case. After the dog clears the room, the situation now becomes the purview of SWAT. In other instances a call may not be a "dog problem" at all. It is up to the handler to determine whether it's best to use a K-9 in any given situation at most agencies, even overriding the police chief's order to deploy, says USPCA's Ferland. If it's not a good deployment because there is too much that could go wrong, the handler makes that final decision.

It's also important to make other officers at your agency and at other agencies aware of how to interact with K-9s. "If you're deploying your dog on a suspect and you don't want other officers to get between the dog and the suspect, they need to learn that they need to stay out of the sight of the dog so he has a clear picture off the person he's trying to run down," says NAPWDA president Ashabranner.

If you want to attend training but money is tight, many grants are available. And closer to home, you can make more of an effort to incorporate outside agencies into your K-9 unit's current ongoing training and to be open to sharing each other's tactics and techniques.

"The big thing is training and exposure," says Hamilton. "And realizing the dogs are one of many tools out there on the street. They're not the magic bullet."

Tools of the Trade

Equipment can be used to help keep K-9s safe while they are on duty, but they have their limits. Cameras specially made to be worn by a K-9 allow the handler and other officers to view what the dog is seeing. But they aren't always practical.

K-9 ballistic vests can protect dogs from gunfire, but they are usually not stab resistant and they only cover and protect certain areas. Unlike humans, K-9s can't wear ballistic vests all the time, especially in hot weather, because the dogs will overheat. Vests can also catch on nails and other items in tight spaces like small attics. "It's a piece of equipment and you need to train enough so they're used to having them on," adds Hamilton. "Otherwise, when you first put it on a dog they're walking funny and can't figure out how to lie down. We only use them in high-risk situations, such as on SWAT calls."

All of these can be helpful in certain situations. But when it comes down to it, the most important "equipment" on a K-9 team is the K-9. "Of course we all love our dogs. But they're a tool, they've got a purpose," says Hamilton.

Social media is abuzz with people decrying K-9s' deaths in the line of duty. Which is understandable. These dogs are innocent animals who are just following their training and their orders. But their deaths are not in vain.

"I've seen and heard some people making comments, questioning why the dog was being utilized," says Ashabranner. "The dog is an extra tool to locate a suspect. It's quicker, more efficient, and safer. And in most cases the K-9 took the shot that would have been meant for the officer. As unfortunate as it is, it does save a life."

"There's an old saying: the police dog is the police that the police officers call for," says Ferland. "I don’t want dogs dying, but I would not trade that for a human dying. We need to look at what the alternative would be if we're not deploying a dog."


Comments (9)

Displaying 1 - 9 of 9

Charles @ 4/18/2016 4:57 PM

Texas Security Assistance Drone Program (TSAD Program)

We need a Texas Security Assistance Drone Program with teams of FWDs (fixed wing drones), RWDs (rotary winged {helicopter} drones) and TVDs (tracked vehicle drones) to enhance safety and security operations.

The TSAD Program would support all Texas fire, police, and emergency services in all jurisdictions.

Drones, in addition to saving innumerable lives, would also save a great deal of fuel and manpower resources.

They would provide unparalleled observation and monitoring of fire, disaster, and emergency scenes without risking lives.

They would eliminate dangerous high speed pursuits.

TVDs supported by teams of FWDs and RWDs would eliminate extremely dangerous dismounted initial direct police approach to suspects, "traffic stops", etc..

The officers would remain in their vehicles and supervise presentation of driver's license, registration, and insurance cards, etc.; to TVDs.
Boom mounted drug, alcohol, and explosive "sniffers" would extend from the TVD to the suspect vehicle; gather the driver's license, registration, and insurance cards, etc., and bring them to the officers who would remain in their vehicle.

FWDs would be assigned to sectors as needed based upon empirical data.
RWDs and TVDs would be assigned to emergency vehicles based upon empirical data.

HCSO - Leading the Way Forward!

Charles @ 4/18/2016 5:01 PM

TSAD Program Savings

It is easy to demonstrate the overwhelming cost savings possible with immediate extensive implementation of a TSAD Program.

Operating drones is much less expensive than massive manpower duplication and saturation patrolling.

Losing a drone is enormously less expensive than losing trained certified safety and security personnel.

There is immediately available incontrovertible evidence of criminal activity.
This would preclude opportunities for riots, looting, and massive expensive extensive property damage.
This would eliminate horrendous litigation costs, endless appeals, and hopelessly backlogged clogged court systems.
There is no valid reason why trials could not be immediate, speedy, and final.

The Citizens would support a bond proposal and election for such a life saving, cost effective program.

We could also develop and submit grant and unsolicited research proposals to Texas and federal agencies.

HCSO - Leading the Way Forward!

tedb @ 4/19/2016 1:24 PM

What in the hell does this advertisement (And a cheap shot at that) have to do with the article above? If you are too damned cheap to buy advertising space, don't pollute our website with your crap.

Woj @ 4/20/2016 9:42 PM

Its sick that police use dogs to do their bidding. I sincerely hope ten of them die for every dog they sacrifice.

Charles @ 4/21/2016 1:23 AM

This is not, and was not, an advertisement.
It is, and was, an attempt to stimulate discussion of the application of current advanced technology to minimize the risk to officers, canine and human.

Hardly a week goes by that I do not get news of another tragic loss of an officer, canine and / or human.

There are some really exciting and innovative technologies being developed and DARPA has been providing funding for some of these advanced projects.
My primary, if not sole, objective is and was to encourage and promote implementation of these life saving concepts.

As a retired (?) certified peace officer with over 50 years experience in military (3 tours as Provost Marshal, et. al.) and civilian (Deputy Sheriff), IACP, etc., law enforcement; I am an avid reader, subscriber, and frequent contributor to these discussions.
Having lost far too many comrades, silence in "retirement" simply is not an option.

Charles @ 4/21/2016 1:24 AM


This is not, and was not, an advertisement.
It is, and was, an attempt to stimulate discussion of the application of current advanced technology to minimize the risk to officers, canine and human.

Hardly a week goes by that I do not get news of another tragic loss of an officer, canine and / or human.

There are some really exciting and innovative technologies being developed and DARPA has been providing funding for some of these advanced projects.
My primary, if not sole, objective is and was to encourage and promote implementation of these life saving concepts.

As a retired (?) certified peace officer with over 50 years experience in military (3 tours as Provost Marshal, et. al.) and civilian (Deputy Sheriff), IACP, etc., law enforcement; I am an avid reader, subscriber, and frequent contributor to these discussions.
Having lost far too many comrades, silence in "retirement" simply is not an option.

Inspector Gadget @ 4/21/2016 5:07 PM

Woj, You are a Dumb--- ! Yes, dogs have been used as "Tools" , Companions & Friends over the course of Human History. Dogs have something like 100x better sense of Smell,10x better Hearing and more acute eyesight than Humans. Couple that with their Intelligence and Trainability as well as Loyalty, and I would not trade even ONE of them for 1,000 of YOU. I am a dog lover (have had dogs all my life) and , although I mourn the loss of any Canine (Service or Pet) I understand the benefits to using them as Partners . Go Take Your Cop Hating B.S.elsewhere. I served for 22 years in SoCal, and saw many great Dogs do their job and catch some serious D-Bags.

Charles @ 4/21/2016 9:38 PM

They give their all, everything they have, with no reservation.

http://americanspotlight.com/news/heres-what-a-heroic-marine-dog-did-to-receive-a-medal/

Like Bill Jordan observed, "He will do to ride the river with".

We have the technology, we can get the funding, let's make it happen:

http://www.foxnews.com/tech/2016/04/08/darpa-wants-your-weapon-ideas-offers-cash-prizes.html

We must not allow the thin blue line to be broken.
To serve and protect is our sacred duty.
It is our minimum standard.
It is not our all, ... it is just the beginning.

We do not retire, we just rest to reflect and regroup, ...
and continue to support our comrades.
"Ask not what your Nation can do for you, but rather, what you can do for your Nation."
Before our mission is accomplished, we still have a Nation to save.

Jim B. @ 4/23/2016 2:04 PM

This is one of the oddest comment threads I've read on this site. And that is saying something!

Join the Discussion





POLICE Magazine does not tolerate comments that include profanity, personal attacks or antisocial behavior (such as "spamming" or "trolling"). This and other inappropriate content or material will be removed. We reserve the right to block any user who violates this, including removing all content posted by that user.

Other Recent Stories

Right-Size Riot Protection
Sirchie's Tac Commander riot control suit adjusts to fit a wide range of officers for a...
Learning from the Past
By studying the threats faced by officers years ago, today's police can prepare themselves...
2018 Police Motorcycle Testing in Michigan
Harley-Davidson adds performance-oriented stage kits to its pair of bikes, while Yamaha...
On Scene at the Michigan State Police Vehicle Test
MSP ran Ford's new F-150 and hybrid sedan responders, as well as a Dodge Durango, during...
Should I Stay or Should I Go?
If you respond to a call involving a suicidal person who's not endangering anyone else, it...

Get Your FREE Trial Issue and Win a Gift! Subscribe Today!
Yes! Please rush me my FREE TRIAL ISSUE of POLICE magazine and FREE Officer Survival Guide with tips and tactics to help me safely get out of 10 different situations.

Just fill in the form to the right and click the button to receive your FREE Trial Issue.

If POLICE does not satisfy you, just write "cancel" on the invoice and send it back. You'll pay nothing, and the FREE issue is yours to keep. If you enjoy POLICE, pay only $25 for a full one-year subscription (12 issues in all). Enjoy a savings of nearly 60% off the cover price!

Offer valid in US only. Outside U.S., click here.
Police Magazine