The Calgary Police Service says it is reviewing the actions of an officer from the canine unit who was caught on video kicking his police service dog during a high-risk takedown on Wednesday.
The video, posted to the Calgary Events Instagram account, seems to have been recorded from inside a home while looking out a window.
In it, members of the CPS tactical unit can be seen walking along the sidewalk outside.
The camera then pans to the right to show a man standing in the snow with a German Shepherd on a leash. The dog barks and the man appears to kick the dog.
In a Thursday morning news conference, Supt. Ryan Ayliffe from the Operational Support Division said police want to assure the public that CPS does not condone the behaviour of the officer.
“We want to assure you that this is not an acceptable or standard method of training that our canine unit uses,” Ayliffe said.
He explained the incident happened while the unnamed officer and his police service dog (PSD) were on the scene of a “dynamic and high-risk arrest in a firearms investigation.”
“While on scene, the PSD began barking, which could have alerted offenders to the location of the officers on scene,” Ayliffe explained. “In response to this high-stress officer safety situation, the handler struck the PSD once.”
Ayliffe side the dog was not injured by the kick.
“The correction method used by the officer in the video is not condoned by the service. We have spoken with the officer involved, who has taken immediate responsibility and expressed regret for his actions,” Ayliffe said.
“The officer has immediately acknowledged that this is not what they would do again and they regret doing what they did.”
Ayliffe said police have received several complaints in relation to the video and will be reviewing the incident thoroughly to ensure “these actions are not repeated.”
“None of us liked the look of that video,” he added. “None of us wanted this to happen. And we acknowledge that this is not an acceptable way to correct dog behaviour.”
“I think the only thing we can do right now is acknowledge that it happened and work with the handler and continue the review process. We have multi-layered ways of reviewing these incidents to make sure that we’re balancing the situation properly against what has happened.
“There’s a number of things that add context to what happened there that mitigate some of the intent – because there was no intent to hurt this animal,” Ayliffe added. “The intent, in this case, was to silence the police service dog because the noise that he was creating was presenting an immediate officer safety concern.”
What actions should the handler have taken instead?
When asked what the correct way is for a handler to respond in a similar situation, Ayliffe said the officer had a few options.
He stressed it was important for the dog to remain quiet so the officer’s location wouldn’t be revealed to the offenders.
“We’ve given him a position on the outside point of a house that requires him to remain focused so he can relay information about what’s happening from his area,” Ayliffe explained. “You can’t afford to have an officer give up their position with noise in that situation.”
He explained the first course of action a handler should take would be to verbally correct the dog – but as that would be noisy to do, it wasn’t a safe option.
“The next option the handler should have gone to would be correcting the dog’s behaviour with the leash. The handler didn’t do this. He kicked the dog, which is unacceptable.
“Or, the only other option I guess, would be for the officer to remove themselves from that position — but by removing himself from that position…We would no longer have that house contained. So that presents different officer safety risks.”
What happens to the dog and the officer?
Ayliffe said the unnamed dog, which has been a part of the canine unit for over five years, will stay with the handler.
He added CPS has no concerns with its training or behaviour.
“This is a high-functioning police service dog. We have no concerns with the dog’s ability to function in these situations. This is a very common thing that a handler corrects through the course of their duties.”
As for the officer, his actions are under review.
“The officer has worked in the canine unit for six years and has demonstrated professionalism and integrity in his work prior to this incident,” Ayliffe said. “I’m confident this behaviour will not be repeated.
“Police service dogs stay 24 hours a day with their handlers. So this dog went home with the handler. We have no concerns for the dog’s safety.”
Calgary Humane Society will ‘look into this matter’
Dog trainer Larry Neilson said he watched the video several times, as well as the police department’s response, and said he “certainly wouldn’t classify it as abuse.”
“I watched the dog probably more than the officer, and I saw that… it never bothered the dog much at all. We watch two dogs play, they’re going to be way rougher than that,” he said.
“Should he have done that? No. But he’s also admitted that.”
Neilson said while he wasn’t there and can’t pretend to have been in that high-stress moment, he said the officer’s actions may just have been a reaction.
“He’s a professional handler. His dog is his partner. And so I’m sure off-camera, what we don’t see is probably a very good relationship,” he said.
Neilson said he feels bad for the officer in a sense, adding “the general public is far too quick to judge without knowing all the facts.”
He said without being there himself, it’s hard to say what the appropriate reaction for the officer would have been, but said likely a leash traction correction would have been the best command.
“However, that probably would have been judged as well,” Neilson said.
The Calgary Humane Society also said in a post on Facebook Thursday that it was “in contact with the Calgary Police Service to look into this matter.”
“Calgary Humane Society wants to make it clear to the public that we promote the use of positive reinforcement based training and do not condone the depicted act or the striking of an animal as an appropriate method of discipline,” the animal rescue said.
The society said it had received “numerous complaints from outraged members of the public and animal advocacy organizations” asking that they investigation the officer’s actions.
— With files from Global News’ Heide Pearson