The province is making changes to the way police can use their K-9 partners and these new standards for use and deployment are a Canadian first.
The new rules were drafted by a group that included every police agency with a dog squad. The decision for new regulations comes a few months after a report by the Pivot Legal Society, which raised serious concerns about police dogs and public safety.
According to report, on average someone is injured by a police K-9 every other day in B.C.
Pivot lawyer Doug King says the regulations bring in a “common sense element” to when police dogs should be used.
The standards include guiding principles of the dogs, handler responsibilities and most notably, the province has clarified when a dog may bite. An important aspect of this standard is a verbal warning must happen before the dog is deployed in order to avoid putting someone in further danger.
If someone is bit, handlers are required to report each bite incident to the province. The Pivot report, which came out in the summer, found a large number of dog bites are not reported.
King says their report showed that police dogs are the number one use of force in B.C., which is not typical or usual, and indicates the overuse of police dogs in B.C.
“Police dogs should be seen as a specialty tool to be called in when necessary,” King says.
“What we were seeing in some departments, especially in Vancouver, is police dogs being put on general patrol.”
While King says the new regulations go “most of the way for what we asked for” there are areas for improvement and this is the first step of a 10 to 15 year project. In the end, Pivot would like to see a drastic reduction in the amount of hospitalizations and injuries.
“We’d like to see police dogs in the background as a tool that can be used if necessary,” King says.
“I think that’s a shift that really needs to happen… [Police dogs] are not a first responder, they’re a last resort.”
BC Minister of Justice Suzanne Anton acknowledges the K-9s will sometimes bite people if needed to bring down a criminal, but she also says it’s an action they don’t want to happen unnecessarily.
“That’s the point of the standards we’ve put into place today,” Anton says.
For the Pivot Legal Society, the standards have been long overdue.
While several of these rules are already in practice, it’s now in black and white that dogs must be well-trained and always under their handler’s control.
The new guidelines go into effect across the B.C. police departments and the RCMP in September 2015.