Bite Ratios in Defense of K9 Programs

by Bill Lewis II 

For years, I have advocated against the necessity of keeping standard bite ratios for the purposes of evaluating the effectiveness of a K9 program as shared in Kerr v. City of West Palm Beach, 875 F2d 1546 (US Court of Appeals, 11th Circuit, 1989). Bite ratios as presented today generally prove one thing; the number of suspects bitten compared to the number of deployments. The numbers do not represent the extent of injuries, the severity of the crimes, the totality of the circumstances, nor the effectiveness of training or supervision. The numbers do not always reflect racial disparity if applicable to your program or accusations of such. I think it’s time to re-evaluate how we share these statistics in defense of our K9 programs. 

I’ve reversed my opinion about keeping bite ratios. What caused me to change my opinion? There are some K9 programs today who are fighting for their existence as “police reform” advocates, legislators, and attorney generals seek to severely restrict the use of police dogs or eliminate them altogether. One of the reasons they seek to curtail or eliminate police dogs is “the bite” and the injuries to suspects. One of our arguments in support of our programs and the use of police dogs can be the bite ratio. 

I’ve been assisting with input and rebuttals to poorly-written one-sided legislation and reform recommendations containing misinformation that do not support law enforcement with respect to police dogs. I believe the standard bite ratios will prove – in the majority of agencies – that police dogs are not biting most of the suspects they encounter and are being used first and foremost as a locating tool to encourage a peaceful surrender once suspects are found. Is that how you’re effectively pitching your program? Do your numbers support your practice?

Here’s a paragraph that I inserted last week into two previous articles I wrote;  I have recently reversed my opinion regarding standard bite ratios and the necessity of keeping them. Although I’m still of the opinion these bite ratios do not measure the overall effectiveness of a K9 program, I believe they should be kept and shared to defend a program, particularly when an agency is wrongly accused of something like “their dogs bite everyone they find.” (Hopefully, your dogs aren’t biting everyone.) For example, the primary mission of most agencies using police dogs is to locate a suspect. If your bite ratio is 100%, your dogs are biting everyone. If your bite ratio is less than 100%, your dogs are not biting everyone. If your bite ratio is less than 50%, the majority of your deployments are not resulting in bites. We must defend our K9 programs nowadays by showing the number of suspects not bitten. Here’s how to put a positive spin on bites with respect to an agency with a 14% bite ratio; “86% of the deployments involving our K9 teams do not result in a bite to the suspect.”  (“Justified Bite Ratio” and “The Reality of Guard-and-Bark” updated on May 25, 2021) 

I think it’s imperative that agencies with K9 programs start now preparing to defend their programs if they are not already doing so. As you learn of misinformation being directed toward K9 programs and the use of police dogs, you should begin networking and assembling your rebuttals and justifications now in support of a united effort to combat the adversaries so we can continue to use an invaluable resource – the police dog – to effectively and efficiently fight crime and make the job safer for the men and women of law enforcement.  

Bill Lewis II © May 2021

You can listen to a 27-minute podcast interview by Jeff Meyer via HITS [K9] Radio with Bill Lewis II regarding “Bite Ratios” by clicking here.