Becoming a police dog is a time-intensive and arduous process. In addition to having to be of a select breed, canines must undergo rigorous training before they receive their K9 status. At the most basic level, handlers train their dogs in protection, searches, tracking, criminal apprehension and obedience. More advanced dogs go on to become SWAT canines, or canines for special government ops. These dogs must demonstrate control of the leash and tolerance of loud noises and unexpected situations. Ultimately, police dogs receive training that allows them to effectively perform their duties without creating or contributing to problematic incidents.
That said, despite meeting strict training and temperament requirements, police dogs are just that — dogs. They are still prone to biting and attacking without provocation and, like their handlers, to making mistakes. Moreover, patrol canines must comply with their masters’ orders. If an officer mistakenly identifies a person as dangerous or a suspect, and if he or she orders the dog to attack, the outcome can be catastrophic — not to mention, needless.
If you or a loved one is the victim of what, to you, is a wrongful police dog bite or attack, you may wonder what, if any, paths to recovery you have. Can you sue the force for negligent or violent behavior? Or must you contend with your injuries on your own? The answer ultimately depends on the circumstances that lead to the incident.
Police Canine Attack Statistics
Though patrol dogs have considerably more training than the average family pet, they attack more often than most people might think. Because of their breeds, size and brute strength, when they do attack, the outcome is often catastrophic, if not fatal. To fully comprehend the severity of the problem that is K9 units gone rogue, consider the following statistics:
- Evidence shows that K9 units are responsible for approximately 3,600 emergency room visits each year.
- Patrol dog bites more resemble shark bites than nips from family pets, causing more hospital visits each year than any other use of force by police.
- Despite strict criteria regarding when a unit can attack, most victims of police dog bites were unarmed, not dangerous or not suspects at all.
- Many canines will not stop biting despite desist orders from their handlers; in many cases, handlers must physically pull the dogs off the victims, resulting in more serious injuries.
- Though rare, bites from patrol dogs can result in fatal injuries.
This data brings light to the often-overlooked issue of police dog misuse.
Law Enforcement Can Legally Use Police Dogs
If you are the victim of a police dog attack, you may wonder if law enforcement officers were legally entitled to use the K9 in your situation. Unfortunately, the answer is likely yes.
Police officers and military service people have a legal right to use their K9 units for any law enforcement purpose they deem fit. Though uses vary, the most typical uses for police dogs include patrol, searching for drugs, tracking fleeing criminals and making arrests. That said, while the law does allow forces to use dogs for certified purposes, few states have guidelines in place for how and when officers must deploy their assistance. Not only is there a lack of uniformity regarding police dog conduct at state levels, rules often vary from county to county.
That said, like with human police officers, the law does regulate the level of force police dogs may use in any given situation. Again, the exact laws vary between jurisdictions. However, in most cases, officers may not order their dogs to bite or attack when making an arrest. Moreover, if a K9 unit does cause harm when performing activities outside the scope of its job, neither the dog nor the officer enjoys typical immunities.
Excessive Force by a Police Canine
If you or a loved one is the victim of excessive force from a K9 unit, you may be able to file a civil suit for damages against the precinct. Before you proceed, though, it is important that you understand what, exactly, excessive force by a patrol dog entails.
When considering whether a dog used excessive force in the line of duty, the courts will consider several factors. Those include but are not limited to the following:
- How severe was the alleged crime? Was it a misdemeanor or felony? If it was a felony, was it a crime that, if carried out, other individuals would have sustained harm? The more severe the crime in question, the more reasonable the use of a K9 unit becomes.
- Did the officers suspect the victim to be armed and dangerous prior to unleashing the dog on him or her? If they did, the courts may deem the use of a K9 unit in such an instance reasonable given the circumstances.
- How severe were the injuries the victim sustained? If the wound is shallow, the courts may not hear the civil suit. However, if the injuries are substantial and life-threatening, then the courts may consider the use of a K9 unit excessive despite the circumstances.
- Did the officers issue a warning to the victim to give him or her a chance to surrender before deploying the K9 unit? If not, and if circumstantial evidence supports the victim’s claim that he or she would have surrendered, then the courts may hold the K9 unit and the officers accountable.
- For how long did the K9 unit maintain its hold on the victim? Was there a singular bite or repeated biting? The courts generally consider repeated and prolonged biting to be excessive.
- Was there a different and less dangerous way the officers could have handled the situation, such as without the use of a K9 unit?
If, after considering each of these questions, the courts determine that you were the victim of excessive force, you may have a case against the K9 unit, its handlers and its force. If you were the suspect of a crime but still have a case, you could not sue under typical dog bite statutes. Instead, you would have to bring a case under the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964. Though remedies are available, pursuing them may prove more difficult than if you could file a typical dog bite claim. You may also have to meet more stringent filing requirements and meet a higher burden of proof. An experienced police dog bite lawyer can help you explore your options and advise you on how best to pursue them.
When a Police Dog Attacks and You Are Not a Suspect
Say, however, that you were not the suspect of a crime and that the offending K9 unit attacked outside of his or her line of duty. In this case, not only is the dog’s use of force automatically excessive by legal standards but also, its actions may constitute negligence. In such a situation, the K9 and his or her team no longer enjoy legal protections available to peace officers. Rather, you have the right to sue under typical dog bite statutes, which may prove easier than pursuing a Civil Rights claim.
When To Contact a Police Dog Bite Lawyer
If you sustained injuries at the jaws of a K9, you should contact a lawyer regardless of what led to the incident. In today’s environment, more officers permit patrol dogs to use excessive force and cause substantial and needless harm. By bringing attention to your case, you can not only hold that at-fault party accountable but also, set a precedence for other police forces. If you are serious about holding the canine’s handler responsible, schedule a meeting with Jason Stone Injury Lawyers today. Rest assured that during the first meeting, There’s no obligation, just information ®.