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Police dogs seriously bite in BC, report finds

Police dogs are the number one source of injury caused by police forces in B.C., according to a new report released today by Pivot Legal Society. On average, every other day a person is bitten by a police dog in the province.

"Police dogs more than any other use of force [such as fists and batons] have the capacity to inflict absolutely devastating, life-long and permanent injury," said lawyer Douglas King, author of the report, in a press conference this morning.

Between 2010 and 2012, 490 people were bitten and injured by police dogs. During this period, Vancouver was responsible for nearly 22 per cent more bites than all other service regions combined, and its dog squad was responsible for 80 per cent of all police dog bites in urban areas.

King said this isn't just a case of crime and punishment. In many cases, individuals were either entirely innocent or had already been arrested, rendering the use of a police dog unnecessary.

That was the case for Andrew Rowe, who lost his left ear and part of his hearing after a police dog attacked his head. Rowe had stolen a DVD and was already on the ground when the police arrived. After being arrested, police deployed the dog a second time.

"The dog was deployed as a weapon," Rowe said. "They used it to be judge, jury and executioner for me stealing a DVD."

Rowe, who has recovered from problems with addiction, now operates his own business. "I think everyone deserves a second chance, and if the officers could see who I am now they never would have set that dog on me."

According to the report, the use of police service dogs is largely unregulated, especially with regards to proper training and use. As a result, some departments report far more bites than others. Saanich and New Westminster, for example, offer unique training that has resulted lower rates of police dog bites.

"Our long-term goal is to get to a place where all the departments are like the best departments," King said.

Based on these findings, the report proposed a series of recommendations asking for better record-keeping practices, restrictions on how the dogs can be used, and changes to the way dogs are trained.

"At the end of the day, we can't blame the dogs for this. It's the person at the front of the leash, not at the end of the leash who is responsible," said King.

Emi Sasagawa is completing a practicum at The Tyee.

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