Did your parents ever tell you “Think before you speak”? Do any of your supervisors ever tell you “Evaluate your audience before you speak”? Simply stated, speaking without thinking (and not evaluating your audience before doing so) can get you in trouble.
I wish I’d started a collection of “statements” by handlers and K9 supervisors that I’ve read and heard over the years that caused me to say aloud or think “Did they really say that?” so that I could share them with you but you may have heard some of the same. Many of these statements have been made in depositions by handlers and I truly wonder who prepared them in advance for their depositions. Many of the questions being asked by Plaintiff’s attorneys are similar and revolve around the same issues; policies, use of force, Graham v. Connor, alternative options, and warnings. As I suggest in each CL360 class I teach, you should be anticipating the questions in advance and rehearsing your answers appropriately with the correct summation with or without your attorney before you participate.
Comments made on the scenes of deployments by handlers and support personnel are just as important to consider – especially after unintentional bites. You might make a comment that doesn’t seem important or you believe it’s proper at the time – but the “bite victim” as a suspect and/or an eventual Plaintiff may remember it specifically (and it may be recorded by a BWC or other device to confirm or refute) and it may not sound good later nor assist your cause. [Author’s 2018 update: I have viewed several recordings from BWC’s within the past year with inappropriate comments recorded.]
The recent  Lowry v. City of San Diego (U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit) case probably provides one of the best recent examples of “speaking without thinking” after the police dog, deployed for a search of a commercial building believed to be burglarized, bit the lip of an employee (Lowry) sleeping on a couch. Shortly after the incident, according to the court transcripts, the handler told Lowry something similar to, “I just can’t believe that’s the only damage [caused by the dog bite]. You’re very lucky. She [the police dog] could have ripped your face off.” This statement is believed to have been a strong tipping point of this incident with respect to the Court’s view of the use of force that was used for the situation. [Author’s 2018 update: This decision was later overturned – as it should have been – but the lessons learned related to comments are still relevant for the purposes of learning.]
Becker v. Elfreich (U.S. Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit) is the second recent case that comes to mind where the handler testified that his police dog was capable of inflicting “lethal force” and that there is a probability of him doing so. The problem with the statements related to this particular incident involves the deployment of the dog on a surrendering suspect and the use of “lethal force” to deal with the situation which does not appear to require lethal force. I don’t think an appropriate answer regarding the “lethal force” aspect to this situation was considered if at all or rehearsed before giving it.
If and when you make comments before, during or after a deployment, take a look around before you speak and evaluate your audience of suspects, victims, witnesses, and other officers. You may decide after evaluating the audience that some comments might be appropriate and some may not. There’s a time to speak, a time to remain silent.
Please don’t get the wrong impression that I believe all handlers are doing this – they are not. For the most part, handlers do a decent job and some do an outstanding job.
Speaking without thinking can get you in trouble. You might also consider this friendly warning; You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say wrong, inappropriate or misinterpreted will definitely be used against you in a civil court.
Take care, be safe and think before you speak…
Bill Lewis II
This “reason” was originally shared on August 10, 2016
“Trouble” isn’t always related to incidents or predicaments that directly result in lawsuits, claims or discipline. Often times, our actions or inactions that are missed, deliberately overlooked or downplayed may lead to nothing or can later lead to mistakes or bad incidents with minimal to serious repercussions. A reason we get in trouble can be minor or simple at first glance – or even serious – but a combination of these factors can often have disastrous consequences.
These “reasons” are provided periodically as a collection in-progress based on actual incidents and real attitudes as well as feedback received at HITS, the CNCA Training Institute, and the “Canine Liability 360” classes. As Gordon Graham says, “We haven’t found new ways to get in trouble.” So, as the list progresses, you may or may not read something familiar to you that you have personally experienced or seen others encounter. If you encountered or heard about it, did you learn from it?