There are two kinds of expert witnesses an attorney may use to render expert opinion and testimony in police dog bite lawsuits. First, there is the animal behavior expert. Second, there is the police dog handler. Each expert possesses their own specialized knowledge. Below, I focus on the differences between these two types of experts.
The Animal Behavior Expert versus Police K-9 Handler
The animal behavior expert uses knowledge about the scientific principles underlying the science of animal behavior. Animal behavior expert has the interest in understanding how the principles and findings from this science can be applied to police dog behavior. Police dogs given that they are dogs, are open to expert analysis from an animal behavior perspective.
In contrast, the police dog handler, is an individual with knowledge and expertise in how police dogs are trained, whether it be for suspect apprehension, drug detection, or locating a suspect. Police dog handlers also have the expertise to opine about the proper protocol for the deployment of these dogs in field situations to apprehend suspects.
How versus Why questions
Given the above, the police dog handler asks “how” questions about police dog behavior. That is, how to teach a police K9 to bite and hold, how to teach the dog to sniff narcotics, how to teach a police dog to follow a scent trail, how to teach a police dog to start and stop attack on command, etc. in short, the police dog handler has the expertise to address issues surrounding the methods used to teach the dog to perform a certain task and whether or not the dog was proficient at that task. How to make a police dog perform a behavior or sequence of behaviors requires a different understanding of why the police dog performs a particular behavior, as explained below.
The animal behavior expert focuses on “why” questions about police dog behavior. Namely, why are police dogs so inherently dangerous? Why do police dogs inflict such severe injury to suspects? Why do police dogs attack innocent bystanders? Why are police dogs at times so unpredictable? Why does the handler have such difficulty in controlling a police dog in a given set of circumstances? Competent analysis of these type of “why” questions are usually beyond the expertise of most police dog handlers.
Which expert to choose for your police dog bite case?
Both the police dog handler and animal behavior expert will qualify in court as police dog experts. However, an attorney’ s choice of which expert to use depends on the issues raised. For example, if there is contention about whether the dog should have been deployed given the circumstances present at the time of the incident then the police dog handler or an use of force expert is the one to choose. On the other hand, if the attorney feels the jury needs to know why police dogs are exceptionally dangerous or why the police dog handler had such difficulty in controlling the dog, then the animal behavior expert is the best expert to use.
The attorney should note that in an earlier post I have written about the science of animal behavior and how it relates to choosing a dog bite expert witness.
Read more about police canines
- Wikipedia on police canines
- A historical overview of police canines
- Frequently asked questions about police canines
- Website of the United States Police K-9 Association
- Oregon police K-9 Association
- Federal law as it pertains to police dog handlers
- Handler bias when using police dogs for narcotics detection
- Introduction to Police canines
- Bark and Hold vs. Find and Bite – Commentary on NPR radio
Dr. Polsky has qualified in federal court is in animal behavior expert witness to opine about issues such as excessive force through the employment of the “bite-and-hold” technique and the selection of police dogs for use in suspect apprehension. Contact information for Dr. Polsky can be found here.