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Police Service Dogs

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In law and general public policy, it is widely accepted that the police and other law enforcement officers can apply, when need be, reasonable yet firm force to make an arrest. These officers have been trained and given orders to use force when a suspect poses a potential threat to them or when the suspect resists arrest. On the other hand, an officer should not be the one to initiate this force; he/she should do so as a response to the potential threat or the resistance. The force to be applied should be reasonable, appropriate and just enough to overcome the suspect. The use of force, in most cases, is via the infliction of deliberate, and lawful, pain to the suspect that will make him/her surrender or cause no harm. The law enforcers can use different ways of force. These include verbal commands, arm control holds, teasers, police cars, pepper spray, impact projectiles and service dogs. In some cases, deadly force is advised (McCauley et al, 2008). This paper will restrict itself to the use of dogs.

The police canines (the dogs) have very many distinct and valuable qualities that make them so crucial for the law enforcers. For instance, they have the speed and strength necessary to outrun a fleeing suspect. Additionally, they are blessed with extraordinary senses of smell and sight such that they can be used to track, locate and seize not only drugs but also explosives, hiding suspects and dead bodies. However, the fundamental flaw that a typical police canine has is the ability to bite which may lead to serious injuries, or even death, to the suspect. This paper will discuss this scenario; when a police canine goes all the way to bite a person and the implications it may have (McCauley et al, 2008).

Liabilities to the Agencies

A mere police canine bite cannot be enough to initiate a civil liability proceeding against an agency. However, a plaintiff can cite that there was an excessive use of force. Some may argue that the dog was not properly trained or that it was mishandled. In the case Monnell vs. Department of Social Sciences, the Supreme Court ruled that an agency can only be held liable if the plaintiff demonstrates that he/she suffered a constitutional injury (in this case excessive force) or if the injury was inflicted as a result of the agency’s policy and mannerisms (Wallentine). The use of force such as police canines and subsequent liability charges, are guided by the three Graham factors; the level of threat posed by a suspect, the seriousness of the crime he’s alleged to have committed and his degree of resistance. For instance, the use police canines (that may bite) cannot be applied on an unarmed (thus posing no serious threat to the trained officer), a non-resisting suspect. An officer doing so can be held liable (McCauley et al, 2008).

Liability for Method of use or the Dog’s actions

The canine handler is charged with initiating the engagement of the canine. In most cases, the animals are trained to follow orders. Once the handler deems it fit to engage the police canine, he/she may do so. This action in itself cannot cause a liability charge. However, he/she will be liable for the dog’s actions. Since the dog is under the officer’s control, they are supposed to bear the brunt for their actions also. This is because it is expected that they control the dog’s actions right from the initiation to the apprehension. If the dog goes out of the line by causing serious injuries, the handler has to be responsible for failing to control it. The handler should be responsible enough to call off the operation if the canine is excessive in its aggression.

Take the case of Robinette vs. Barnes, filed by survivors of a suspected burglar who was bitten and fatally injured by a police canine. The police officers had responded to a break-in alarm in Nashville and there was indeed more than enough evidence of forced entry. The dog handler warned the suspect twice that a dog would be released into the building unless he surrenders. He ignored. He was again warned after it had been released. However, the dog ran out of sight of the handler. He only found the dog biting the throat of the suspect, who was already unconscious. He succumbed to this overly aggression. The first question raised is whether the deployment of the dog was in itself constituted the use of excessive force. Under the circumstances, this was not the case as there were enough reasons to believe that the suspect posed a serious threat. Thus, the handler had to be held liable for the dog’s actions. However, it was also ruled that the handler could not be reprimanded for the dog’s actions since it had been well trained and even that aggression was never expected. This was the only fatal casualty of canine aggression in almost two decades. This case clearly demonstrates that the handler will be liable not for the method of use but for the actions of his dog (Wallentine).

Liabilities of Police Canines vs. their Benefits

Dogs are have been affectionately labeled as ‘man’s best friend’. Most people who have kept them as pets consider them as part and parcel of the family set up. In some years now, these ‘friends’ have ably assisted law enforcement agencies in locating drugs, explosives, rescue missions, search missions and criminal arrests. Many people will commend a dog that catches a criminal; a dog that is wounded or dies while in the line of duty is usually lauded and accorded a heroic status. For all their good service to man, they have taken their rightful place in the hearts of humans.

Don’t be fooled though. The dogs, just like any other animals, can be very vicious. Almost everybody will cringe when a vicious dog attacks them. The animals can be manipulated to resemble other weapons of terror. The dogs can bite, and not just bite, bite very hard indeed. The use of dogs, especially in an excessive manner, can be detrimental to the law enforcers themselves. They can be effective in doing their assigned tasks, but they can be lethal also true to their animal instincts. The use of police dogs has many dilemmas; what will happen if they go for the wrong man? Yes, the suspect has surrendered, what if the dog doesn’t also do so? What about the cases where a dog disobeys its handler? What about the case where the handler disobeys the law? In the cases where they are just used to cause fear? (CCDL)

The questions raised above provide the law enforcement agencies with many challenges. However, when the dogs are properly trained and the handlers are capable enough to control them, the dogs can be of valuable importance to law enforcement. The liabilities and lawsuits that arise can be said to be isolated cases. The fact that there has only been one canine bite fatality in almost three decades attests to this fact. Therefore, I believe that the benefits of using police canines far much outweigh the isolated liabilities.

Criminal charges arise when there’s a gross misconduct on the part of the handler. For instance, the use of force is guided by the three Graham factors. However, a handler can simply ignore the factors in unleashing a dog that may cause serious harm to a suspect. In other cases, a handler may himself disobey the law that he’s supposed to enforce. When such behavior is deemed as a gross misconduct, criminal proceedings can be initiated against him.

Necessity of Agencies to have Proper Procedures

It’s very crucial for an agency to have proper systems in place that will guide the handling and operation of a canine unit. This procedure will be used as the standard by all the handlers. Such a system will ensure that any handler has a reference of what is expected of him, when, why, and how to initiate a canine operation. It is also of great importance when there’s a perceived misuse of the procedure by a handler. Having a uniform system also ensures that all officers work under similar orders and expectations and thus there’s no conflict of interest.

One of the issues that need to be addressed by the agency is the type of canine operation and thus type of training; find and bite or find and bark. In the former case, the dogs are trained to chase the suspect and lawfully bite him/her. In most agencies, this is the strategy that is used. In the latter, the dogs are trained to chase and find the suspect, circle him and then bark long enough until the handler comes along. It is very important that an agency sets either of the system as its way of canine operation. Having a clear system with regard to an operation is very crucial not only for the training of the dogs but also for the training of the handlers. This system will shape how the officers go about criminal arrests. However, due to the unpredictability nature of most criminals training a dog to find and bark only can expose them and the handler to danger or attack by an armed criminal.

The second issue that an agency should address is the specific instances where a canine operation should be applied. It is simply not enough to leave this decision at the discretion of the handler. Due to the nature of law enforcement, critical decisions have to be made in split seconds. However, having a clear system that addresses when to apply an operation, when to call off the operation will come in handy when the officers have to make the decisions. Apart from using their own intuition, they will have a written golden rule to adhere to. This will make their work, and the operation, easier and successful.

Role of the Departmental Policies

Canine operations are simply meant to augment the officers. That fact that they are used only when force is necessary, demonstrates that the dogs are supposed to offer protection to the handlers and officers. Therefore, most departmental policies are not only meant to ensure that law enforcement is ably supported but that also the officers are protected against potential threats. This is because the dogs cannot do the arrests by themselves; this is the work of the officer. A suspect that has been cornered by dog and probably in pain poses is less of a threat to the officer. Additionally, a dog can work as a capable deterrent for the criminal to attack the officer. The officer is thus protected as the criminal has a dilemma of who to attack first as both the dog and the officer can impede his escape. Indeed the major policy of Blank Police Department is to use the canines, among other functions, to protect the officers (Excel K-9 Services). The West Palm Beach Police Department also has a similar policy (Bush, 2007).

Conclusion

The use of police dogs grew in prominence in the mid 20th century. From then on, thousands of criminals have been nabbed with the aid of the dogs, large caches of narcotics have been discovered, explosives have been found and the lives of officers saved from possible danger. This simply underscores the importance of man’s best friend in law enforcement.

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