“Uniformed officers as decoys”

It happens – police dogs bite uniformed officers, deputies and troopers during real world deployments.  It’s unfortunate, it’s usually painful, and it sometimes causes serious injuries.  It also tends to diminish credibility with your K9 program if it’s occurred at your place more than once, especially if you are not making conscious, ongoing, and documented efforts to avoid these incidents.  It may get you in trouble. 

These incidents are usually called “accidents” but are they?  An accident is defined as an unexpected, undesirable event, and an unforeseen incident.  We should be preparing to avoid these accidents.  Predictable is preventable.  There are no acceptable casualties.  The majority of these situations could have been avoided with the proper training, education, situational awareness, and control of the dog. 

I show the photograph below in my classes followed with the question;  “What’s wrong with this picture?”

The answers to the question are similar;  “The dog is biting a uniformed officer.”  I have a collection of photographs similar to the one above.  I also have a collection of reports, emails, news articles and videos describing and sharing incidents where police dogs have bit uniformed officers in real world deployments. 

I like to think we are better educated and smart enough not to conduct this type of training.  However, I watched a video last week showing a brand new K9 team being introduced and promoted within its community by demonstrating its ability to bite – biting a uniformed officer wearing a sleeve.  This video disappointed me and prompted this reason we get in trouble. 

Here’s my take on the situation;  If you are teaching your police dog that it’s acceptable to bite a uniformed officer in training, you might expect (predict) the dog will believe it’s acceptable to do the same during a real world deployment.  If you argue the dog is only biting the sleeve and not focusing on the uniform, you are teaching the dog to ignore “the man” and focus only on equipment. 

I understand why these training bites occur; time and convenience.  The “offenders” are not intentionally trying to teach their dog that it’s okay to bite a uniformed officer – they just lack the appropriate education and don’t understand the potential ramifications (aka “liability”) of their actions. 

It might be difficult to explain how well-trained our police dog is to a jury during an excessive use of force trial involving a canine bite when we have a history of that same dog biting uniformed officers – whether we have trained to avoid it or not.  I won’t address “uniform recognition” here but I think it’s important to emphasize that your police dog must understand that it is not acceptable to bite a uniformed officer and you must strive to prevent it through training.  And, your dog should not be biting “anyone” without you giving the command to do so. 

A few agencies have a policy that prohibits “decoys” from wearing a police uniform or visibly displaying the uniform or any identifiable part of the uniform.  During my time as a handler, each handler had a trench coat in their car trunk that a uniformed officer could quickly slip on over their uniform for use as a decoy with a sleeve for a quick training scenario, exercise, or demo.   

Please don’t allow your dog to bite a uniformed officer – in training or during a real world deployment.  It might get you in trouble – and it might seriously injure a uniformed officer working on the street.

Take care, be safe and make every day a training day…

Bill Lewis II

This “reason” was originally shared on August 23, 2017.

“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?