Tactical Considerations for K9 Deployments

by Bill Lewis II

The tragic shooting of a police dog in San Joaquin County (CA) by a member of an outside agency [in 2009] during a multiple-agency warrant service prompted me to list many considerations that team leaders, patrol supervisors and K9 handlers should discuss and address prior to an operation or deployment.  The shooting itself should serve as a notice and reminder that deploying a police dog can often be unpredictable and perhaps tragic if the proper training and tactical considerations are not addressed in advance. 

The incident itself has provided me with the opportunity to address future operations, deployments and training issues from a general perspective for the tactical considerations and the planning stages for situations involving police dogs. 

Listed below in no specific order are some lessons learned and points (not specifically related to the incident mentioned) that can serve as a “checklist” for team leaders, team members, patrol personnel and K9 handlers to consider and evaluate before a K9 team is assigned to an operation or deployment and during the respective briefing; 

·         “If you have not trained together, do not deploy together!”

·         Personnel who have not worked or trained around a police dog in a tactical situation or apprehension and/or have not worked well in those situations should not be deployed in any situation where that potential exists.

·         Working with one police dog is not the same as working with another police dog.  All dogs are not the same.  All handlers are not the same.  All deployment criteria are not the same.

·         Operational and patrol deployment briefings must include confirmation by ALL personnel involved that a K9 may be utilized during an operation or deployment and discuss the potential scenarios where the police dog may or may not be used. 

·         The advantages and disadvantages of using police dogs for a dynamic-speed search or arrest warrant service must be thoroughly addressed and considered in advance as part of the planning process.

·         Deployment criteria and parameters for the K9 team must be established in advance at the briefing by a team leader or person in charge of the operation or deployment with consensus from the K9 handler and ALL personnel must be knowledgeable of that criterion and any parameters.

·         Never assume everyone involved in an operation or patrol deployment knows the capabilities and limitations of your K9 team and how your police dog works. 

·         Never assume everyone involved in an operation where your dog may be deployed can visually identify your K9, particularly during a stressful encounter.  All involved personnel should actually see at the briefing the K9 or K9’s that may be deployed so “mistaken identity” will not occur whether or not the suspect residence or target location is known to have dogs.   Identification of the involved K9 team(s) should occur even if the team is assigned to the perimeter.

·         If pit bulls (or other dogs not normally used for police work) are believed to be present or possibly present at a target location, and your police dog isn’t a pit bull (or other breed), make sure the involved personnel can identify your dog, regardless of multiple-agency or single-agency involvement.  And, if the same breed of dog as the K9 is believed to be present, it is even more critical that some type of identification be made or available.

·         Identifying markings (such as “Police” or “Sheriff” collars or harnesses) should be considered for police dogs the same as for tactical or patrol personnel to avoid any possible confusion or mistaken identity by involved personnel, bystanders or suspects.

·         Whenever the potential for a police dog deployment occurs, personnel must know how to properly react if the dog attempts to or makes an apprehension and who will be ideally controlling the situation.

·         Personnel must be properly trained in tactical decision-making under stress to enable them to remain in control and react appropriately so they are able to make the right decisions during stressful situations. 

·         It is common in training and the real world that the insertion of a police dog into a tactical situation can often create unnecessary stress for those not comfortable working around dogs.

·         The question “What if I get bit by the police dog?” isn’t a stupid question.  The answer should not be taken for granted and should always be addressed through ongoing training and at briefings with operators and patrol personnel.

·         The question “What if I get bit by the suspect’s dog?” should also be addressed in advance as it could occur at different times and locations and the tactical options with respect to the overall operation should be discussed.  For example, an operator or patrol officer might be bit during an approach, during an entry or during an encounter with the suspect.

·         The tactical decision to draw a service weapon or utilize a shoulder-mounted weapon to shoot a dog (police dog or other) during a close quarter encounter with a suspect because the dog is biting you while you are physically struggling with the suspect to control and subdue the suspect can have negative consequences or repercussions to you or others on scene and on the perimeter.

It is, perhaps, easier for us that have been bitten by police dogs or other dogs to readily weigh the consequences of a dog bite versus a life-and-death struggle with a suspect.  It is a decision that will be made in a split second, but it is a scenario that can be rehearsed mentally many times in advance so the appropriate decision is made at the appropriate time.

·         Create chaos and confusion in training so your dog will react appropriately in a real situation.

·         Create chaos and confusion in training with your dog and your tactical operators and patrol personnel so they will react appropriately in a K9-related situation.

·         Have a medical emergency evacuation plan ready for your dog in case it is seriously injured and requires immediate transportation to the nearest veterinary hospital for medical attention in a life-threatening situation.  Most operational briefings include medical contingencies for caring and transporting tactical operators, but rarely do we see operational plans that include medical care and location of vet hospital for the police dog.

Police dogs are a valuable asset.  Communications and training are critical to the success of any operation or deployment. 

Bill Lewis II © 2009

This article was published in “K-9 Cop Magazine” (Oct/Nov 2009) & “American Working Dogs” (Spring 2010).