“Failure to give a running announcement”

The adrenaline is pumping, it’s a crime in progress and the K9 handler is arriving on scene as the suspect flees.  The handler bails from the car and the police dog follows and the directed apprehension begins with the handler’s verbal command to the dog to pursue and bite.  But wait – did the handler give an announcement to the suspect while running that identified himself along with “Stop or I’ll send the police dog!” before deploying the dog?

It happens – handlers often forget to give their K9 announcement while running in pursuit of a suspect or don’t believe the suspect will stop if given.  Handlers usually do a great job during static situations when stationed near an entry point to a building, a standoff with a suspect, behind a police car preparing for a high risk vehicle clearing or at the entrance of a residential backyard or a storage yard.   However, handlers often resort to yell something quick and simple and similar to what they’d say without their dog during a foot pursuit – and sometimes nothing at all.  

One of the reasons we get in trouble is failing to give a clearly audible announcement.  I’d like to think it’s a matter of routine – and for the most part, it’s done regularly – but I do know it doesn’t happen as often while handlers are chasing a suspect at the start of or during a foot pursuit.  It’s not easy to yell something clearly during a stressful and dynamic situation that resembles a warning that can be heard by the fleeing suspect (and potential witnesses nearby) while running full speed, breathing hard, and gasping for air.  The handler may be holding on to a firearm and/or a leash with the dog in stride alongside – and then she must yell at the suspect to comply or else with something other than “Police. Stop” before sending the dog.  It is even more difficult when a handler is not physically fit.

Most agencies have their “standard” verbal announcement written in their K9 policy or operational manual – but many do not have the running announcement written or addressed.  You don’t have adequate time to give the standard announcement while running so a much shorter version is recommended and reasonable.  What do you say before you deploy your dog during a foot pursuit? Do you include the consequences for failing to comply?

Here are probably the most common announcements for pursuits;

  • “Sheriff’s Department.  Stop or I’ll send the dog.”
  • “Police.  Stop or I’ll send the dog.”
  • “Sheriff’s K9. Stop or you’ll get bit.”
  • “Stop or I’ll send the dog and you’ll get bit.”
  • “Stop or I’ll send the police dog.”
  • “Police.  Stop or I’ll send the dog….[breath]…and you will be bitten.” 

Some handlers will recall they gave a proper running announcement afterward because they believe they did – but recordings and witnesses have proven otherwise.  Or, the handler will insist he said “Police. Stop or I’ll send the dog” when he only yelled “Police.  Stop.”  The stress of the moment can change the conditions and recollection.  It is recommended to mentally and verbally rehearse your running announcement beforehand as you are preparing to arrive at the scene where you know a foot pursuit is in progress or believe one will be as you arrive.

I am aware of at least one lawsuit that was lost – in my opinion – primarily because an announcement was not given to a fleeing suspect and it cost the agency $40,000 plus attorney fees to the Plaintiff’s attorney and the costs to defend.

Just like any other post-deployment investigation, make sure you canvas for witnesses that heard (or didn’t hear) the announcement or part of it and record their words of what they specifically heard – not what you think they heard or a brief summary. Never only ask “Did you hear anyone give an announcement?” Instead, follow an affirmative reply with “What exactly did you hear?” And, tape record or body cam the interview(s).

One of the best ways to instill this running announcement in handlers is through policy and constant training.  It’s no different than how you insist upon the standard announcement at the start of most static searches during training.  You can setup quick training scenarios involving pursuits and recalls.  If handlers are being trained (and evaluated) continually to give the proper running announcement in training scenarios, they should do the same in a real world situation.

Take care, be safe and practice your running announcement…

Bill Lewis II

This “reason” was originally shared on May 20, 2015 and updated January 14, 2020.

“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?