“Limiting social opportunities”

A few months ago, a handler told me that their police dogs are not allowed inside of their police station.  I’d never heard of that restriction before and then another handler from another agency tells me last month the same restriction is implemented at their agency.   In both cases, the policies were implemented “years ago” based on “bad bites” occurring within the respective stations.  And, because of these two policies, I’m thinking there may be more of you with similar restrictions. 

Now, one simple way to avoid potential trouble is to prohibit police dogs from police stations.  However, by doing so, the police dog is also being prohibited from valuable interaction with other officers and it is limiting social opportunities that may prove to be beneficial on the street during the deployment of the dog when these same officers are being integrated with the K9 team as support personnel. 

It was our policy that each handler would attend their patrol briefing (roll call) with his/her police dog for each briefing.  This attendance does not have to be a fun and social activity for the dog each and every time nor should it be.  This policy provides a social opportunity to take place under the supervision of the handler with the approval and consensus of the officers present prior to the start of each briefing and not active during the briefing.

The interaction can be as subtle and brief as petting the dog or a non-verbal acknowledgement because a police dog often reacts positively to a simple smile or head nod.  I’ve watched my dog and others lay quietly at the feet of other officers during a briefing.  Some dogs may not interact well initially but I believe it’s essential they learn to do so.  I’ve seen some handlers sit alone in a corner of the briefing room with their dog because of sociability problems – not a confidence builder for other officers – while other handlers sit adjacent to officers with their dogs at their feet or in close proximity.

Author’s Update: It should be a requirement that a handler and their police dog attend all briefings to be introduced and acknowledged if they will be on scene – including SWAT operations. warrant services, parole/probation searches or sweeps, fugitive apprehensions, etc. – even if the K9 team is only assigned to perimeter duties or initially staged out of the area to be used only if needed.

By mandating this presence and potential interaction within a controlled setting on a daily basis, we are preparing for future interaction under different circumstances on the street that are often stressful and high risk.  You want your police dog to be comfortable working around other officers – and vice versa – and you will not get the same opportunity for this consistent interaction outside the police station during normal working conditions.  It is not a fail safe method – you may still encounter problems on the street – but you will more than likely avoid serious trouble and limit your liability.

I’m not a big fan of letting the police dog walk on leash through the police building even under the control of the handler without a legitimate reason (like heading for the required briefing) and never should it be allowed to roam uncontrolled around the premises off leash.

I don’t recall the specifics about the incidents that prompted the two policies above, but I’m fairly certain they were probably all unintentional and avoidable. And, yes, it doesn’t look good when this type of trouble happens. However, it’s better to implement preventative measures and take proper action if incidents do occur rather than prohibit important interaction.

Take care, be safe and encourage positive social opportunities….

Bill Lewis II

This “reason” was originally shared on March 24, 2014.

“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?