10/25/2016 13:54 EDT | Updated 10/26/2017 01:12 EDT

B.C. called on to release provincewide statistics on police-dog bites

VANCOUVER — A month after a bystander was mistakenly mauled by a Vancouver police dog, a legal advocacy group is calling on the provincial government to release newly gathered numbers outlining how many people are being bitten in British Columbia.

All police forces in B.C. have been ordered to report dog-bite data to the province since new regulations were introduced over a year ago. It's a departure from earlier legislation that in some instances didn't require a report to be filed for an accidental bite.

Pivot Legal Society spokesman Doug King said he's heard too many stories of bite injuries involving innocent people, as well as "arrestable" suspects who say they had turned themselves in and posed no threat but still had a dog released on them.

"Police are not meant to punish people," King said in an interview on Tuesday. "Their sole job is to bring them in front of the justice system. Then after conviction a judge sentences them accordingly.

"Often the police-dog deployment sidesteps that whole process. It starts to feel like somebody's being punished before they've even been charged."

Pivot outlined its request in a letter sent Tuesday to Clayton Pecknold, director of police services in B.C.'s Public Safety Ministry.

Pecknold said the dog-bite data is still being collected and will be made public in early 2017.

"It's important to note that police dogs are an important, effective policing tool used for finding and apprehending suspects, searching for evidence, searching for missing people, drugs or explosives and more," he said in an emailed statement.

"But like any policing tool, they must be used consistently, effectively and with restraint."

Pivot singled out the Vancouver Police Department, calling for an audit of the province's largest police force to determine whether it's complying with the new regulations around police-dog training, deployment and oversight.

An earlier report from the advocacy organization found Vancouver police had the highest ratio of bites of all B.C. departments. The number is calculated based on arrests involving dog bites compared with those not involving bites.

Vancouver police spokesman Sgt. Brian Montague said the agency is already transparent with its police-dog data and wouldn't stand in the way of the province disclosing that information.

"We get about 700 calls in the City of Vancouver every day. Many of those calls are attended by our police service dogs," Montague said.

"In many, many cases there's no need to deploy the dog. It may be used to track, locate a suspect, but in many of those cases those suspects are compliant and we don't have to deploy a dog."

Mayor Gregor Robertson, who is chairman of the Vancouver Police Board, wasn't immediately available to comment.

In September, a dog bit a bystander while Vancouver officers were responding to a reported kidnapping and double murder — an incident for which police have since apologized.

A police dog tore off part of Vick Supramaniam's ear before grabbing his leg and dragging him across the ground.

Supramaniam declined comment Tuesday.

Montague described the circumstances as chaotic and a "really unfortunate error."

"The dog handler in that case felt extremely bad that that had happened, that his dog had bitten someone who wasn't supposed to be bitten."

Pivot is also calling on Vancouver police to launch a pilot project involving body-mounted cameras for all of its 15 dog squad officers.

"If the goal of body cameras is accountability and to cut down on use of force that's unnecessary, then in many respects this is exactly where we should be looking to put them."

Montague dismissed the request, citing cost concerns around processing and storing the vast amounts of video as the primary obstacle to a body-camera program.

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