“The police dog may bite you”

by Bill Lewis II

In my continuing efforts to best prepare police K9 programs to defend themselves and provide proof they are doing the right things when considering the factors and circumstances involved when deploying their police dogs, I offer another suggestion that may assist in defending your program and recommend you consider changing your K9 announcement if it includes “the police dog will bite you” and it’s easy and painless to accomplish.

I recently wrote an article that recommended the elimination of the find-and-bite label (link).  I suggested doing so based on agency policies and statistics that generally identify the police dog as a locating tool and percentages that reveal the majority of suspect arrests involving a police dog do not involve a bite from the police dog.

For years, the attorneys that defend us have opined that a warning that includes “if the police dog finds you, the dog will bite you” is acceptable as it provides the consequences for non-compliance and no surrender.  One attorney suggested “if the police dog finds you, the dog may bite you” if deploying a dog trained for guard-and-bark (or bark-and-hold).  I recommend “may” for all dog deployments as I know that not all finds result in a bite.  Some will say “It doesn’t matter.”   Some will say “I don’t care.”  Some will say “we’re not changing because that’s the way we’ve always done it.”

However, based on your agency experience, what usually happens after a warning that includes “if the police dog finds you, the dog will bite you” once the dog is deployed and finds a suspect?  Most statistics support the dog will not have bitten a suspect after a find of the suspect.  Shouldn’t your announcement confirm the intent of your policy and practice supported by the statistics?

We must change the wrongly perceived image that our dogs are merely biting machines and they bite suspects during every deployment.  The “bite” is the most scrutinized aspect of deployments today by adversaries of police dogs and its relationship to the use of force and excessive force.  Yes, the dogs bite – but – based on the statistics, they find more suspects without biting them.  Do your statistics support your policy? Does something as simple as changing an announcement from “will” to “may” serve a greater purpose?

In my recent liability class, the bite ratios of the agencies in attendance ranged from 3% to 25%.  Those numbers when reversed reveal suspects were taken into custody 75% to 97% of the time without the police dog biting.  Those are great statistics to show the dogs are primarily locating tools, not biting machines.  Those are great statistics to prove you are doing the right things.  Are you sharing and publicizing these important statistics as part of a transparency policy or public relations presentation?

You can no longer simply sit back and hope nobody comes to challenge your K9 program and your practices.  You can’t ignore the legislative attacks and attempts to severely restrict or eliminate the use of police dogs that is now occurring. 

I am an advocate for simple solutions that will make life easier for our K9 programs, defend our policies, and justify the utilization of a police dog.  I believe one small change to your K9 announcement memorialized in your policy or operational manual and practiced “may” keep you out of trouble and your statistics should prove that biting a suspect after a find is not a priority at your agency.

“If the police dog finds you, the police dog may bite you.”

With respect to this potential change of your announcement and any potential implications, I suggest you have a discussion amongst your K9 teams, your administration, and perhaps your legal counsel and maybe even your state or national canine association to determine the best course of action.

Bill Lewis II © September 2021