Brutal bites are bestowing lawsuit backlash
// Colin Spensley

As Scott Philippo rode his bicycle home in the early hours of Oct. 3, 2010, he was tackled from his bike by one of the VPD’s German Shepherd police dogs. Philippo had been falsely singled out as a bike thief. Unfortunately, this case of mistaken identity ended with bites to Philippo’s abdomen due to the police dog not being able to “bite and hold” properly. The handler was able to keep the dog inches from Philippo while handcuffing him, luckily.

Despite training, German Shepherds can be unpredictable, just as policemen can make mistakes. Because of this, Vancouver citizens should be critical of VPD policy surrounding police dogs.

In another incident in January, an East Vancouver construction worker was bitten by a police dog as he left the scene of a crime on his skateboard. The injuries sustained to the man’s legs required medical attention and 100 stitches. Images of his ravaged legs and thighs are not only gruesome; they are perhaps just what the public needs to see to fully grasp the severity of this issue.

Christopher Evans, who was arrested after vandalizing a bus with his skateboard, plans to sue the VPD for damages inflicted by the dog attack with the help of PIVOT Legal Society, a not-for-profit legal aid.

In response to claims made by PIVOT Legal Society, Vancouver police Chief Constable Jim Chu justifies the current use of police dogs. Conveniently, his statement lacked a clear definition of what sort of criminals should be pursued by police dogs: “There are several issues to be addressed such as: defining what is a ‘serious offender’; whether to limit the use of VPD police dogs to only apprehending ‘serious offenders’; the apprehension of armed suspects; and suspects for which there is a reasonable belief has the potential to cause harm to the officer, themselves or others.”

This loose definition of who warrants pursuit by police dogs probably did not apply to the 16-year-old minor who fled from police in the early hours of Jan. 28, 2012. The youth and his accomplice broke into a gas service station and stole approximately 40 energy drinks.

As they fled from RCMP pursuit, one youth was dragged down from a fence and sustained a broken nose from the fall. A police dog then began to attack the boy causing severe but non-fatal injuries to the boy’s face. The boy’s parents have requested the handler be reviewed by the RCMP and the police dog under question be destroyed.

PIVOT has called into question the K-9 Squads “bite and hold” tactic of detention. They claim the other model of “find and bark” would greatly lower the amount of injury sustained from the unpredictable behavior of dogs trained to bite and hold.

However, in the same statement by Chief Constable Chu, he cites a study by the US Department of Justice, stating, “Under the current model, ‘bite and hold’, officers make the decision when the dog is to bite and potentially injure the suspect. Under ‘bark and hold’ techniques, the canine makes the decision when they should bite and when they should not.”

This policy places the responsibility of these attacks with the dog handler, but as demonstrated earlier, we shouldn't really trust their judgment, either.

Although effective, this method puts the public at risk, innocent or guilty. Unfortunately, Chu claims that no changes need to be made to current K-9 training model. In his conclusion he states, “It is recommended that no change to policy is required as a result of this Service and Policy complaint and that the complaint be dismissed.”

His tune may change with the result of the latest lawsuit against the VPD and RCMP in the coming months.

//Colin Spensley, columns editor
//Graphics by Tyler hughes

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© 2011 The Capilano Courier. phone: 604.984.4949 fax: 604.984.1787 email: editor@capilanocourier.com