VICTORIA - The British Columbia government has introduced new rules for the training and deployment of police dogs months after a report singled out dog bites as the leading cause of injuries.
Attorney General Suzanne Anton said Thursday that the new standards emphasize proper training and spell out permitted uses for the dogs, with an effort to make sure the animals aren't used improperly.
In June, the Pivot Legal Society released a three-year study that concluded police dogs are the leading cause of injury by RCMP and municipal forces in B.C.
The study found most B.C. police forces train service dogs with a method called bite-and-hold, as opposed to the other leading technique that simply sees the dogs circle and bark.
Anton said the changes are the first standards of their kind established in Canada.
She said the dogs will still be used to bring down criminals or if police need to stop people who commit crimes.
"But you don't want that to happen unnecessarily, so that is the point of the standards that we're putting in place today."
The society's report tallied data from the RCMP and the Office of the Police Complaints Commission, finding that at least 490 people were bitten and injured by police dogs between 2010 and 2012. It also said the harm inflicted during a takedown charted highest in Vancouver, followed by Abbotsford, and was lowest in Saanich and New Westminster.
Pivot staff lawyer Douglas King said the standards, such as not deploying a dog after an elderly person or a youth — which the study found was common occurrence — are common sense.
Pivot investigators had to dig deeply to get the information and filed multiple freedom-of-information requests and hounded police department for their data, King said.
One of the biggest things that the new regulation brings is transparency, he said.
"The reality is we have dozens of incidents in B.C. over the last decade where the wrong person has been bitten, an innocent bystander has been bitten when the dogs have completely lost control. Police departments haven't been able to give us an answer for why that happened."
King said the rules will force an officer to think before a dog is used, asking the questions is it legally justified and necessary.
"The hope is it will cut down on the number of people we see injured," he said.
Among permitted uses for police dogs under the new regulations are tracking or searching for people who may have committed a crime, looking for lost people, search for drugs, explosives or firearms and crowd control.
The regulations won't come into force until September next year.
King calls the transition period generous, but added he hopes police forces will begin phasing in the standards to better protect the public before then.
"In some ways that's actually a good sign. Because it shows that (police) don't actually think this is going to be business as usual, they'll have to make some adjustments."
-- by Terri Theodore in Vancouver