Dog Bite | Animal Behavior Expert Witness For Attorneys

Richard H. Polsky, PhD, CDBC
Los Angeles, California

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Expert witness opinion about police dog bite attacks on innocent bystanders

Richard Polsky, Ph.D., an expert witness on police dog bites, investigated 30 cases of dog bite attack by a police K9 on an innocent bystander.  The results of his investigation and his expert opinion about the dangerous nature of police K9 are presented below.

Background information about dog bites inflicted on innocent bystanders by police dogs

Innocent bystanders are occasionally the victims of police canine dog bite attack.  Many instances of this kind of dog bite attack happen when the victim is  police dog expertstanding near a patrol car and is attacked by the dog who manages to escape from the car.  In other instances, the victim may be walking on a public street and inadvertently comes into the path of a police K-9 searching for a suspect, and then is attacked by the dog.  In short, no manner how much it might be downplayed by the police, the reality is that dog bite attacks by police canines on innocent bystanders happen, and the injuries inflicted are often severe.

Police are reticent to disclose information about attacks on innocent bystanders. Moreover, little is known about police dog bite attack on innocent bystanders from an epidemiological point of view. There are few if any studies in the literature that describe the circumstances in which these attacks occur, or variables associated with their occurrence. On other parts of this website, I have written about the inherently dangerous nature of police canines.

An analysis is therefore needed to discover basic information about these kinds of attacks.  For example, who is attacked, body location where the bite is inflicted, whether multiple bites occur, the breed of the dog involved, whether the canine was on a leash when the incident occurred, and whether the innocent bystander attack happened when the dog was in deployment dog to apprehend a suspect.

 Methodology and Results 

The results from this study were presented at the annual meeting of the Animal Behavior Society in Boulder, Colorado in July 2013.

Information gleaned from the cases included (a) Whether the canine had been “deployed” by its handler; (b) Whether the dog was on leash vs. off leash at the time of attack; (c) Gender of the victim; (d) Breed of dog involved; (e) Time of occurrence, and (f) The area on the victim’s body where bites were inflicted.

Basic findings indicate that:

  • Police canines trained in subject apprehension are prone to make “mistakes” in that they attack a person other than the suspect they are pursuing.  Most attacks happened when it is dark, and in a variety of circumstances, which include the bystander’s backyard;
  • In most instances, the dog was off-lead and actively in pursuit of a suspect at the time of the attack.   In these instances, the handler gave the dog a command to search for and apprehend a suspect. Apprehension by the canine is done by the controversial “bite-and-hold” technique;
  • 18% of the attacks on innocent bystanders happened when the dog was on a leash being held by the handler.  Hence, even when a handler supposedly has control over the dog, attacks on innocent bystanders still happen;
  • 32% of the attacks on an innocent bystander happened when the canine was not in service or in pursuit of a suspect.
    Examples include the canine jumping out of the patrol car and attacking the victim, or attacking a bystander during a training session with the dog’s handler;
  •  In 16% of the incidences,  the victim was bitten in one body location, usually the arms or legs.  This result differs from a previous study which found that bites inflicted by K-9 police dogs to a suspect which they apprehended, were usually delivered to the torso and head.
  • In 77% of the incidences, the victim was male. The reasons for this gender difference are not fully understood.

 Conclusions and opinions

Based on my investigation it becomes obvious that some police dogs should not be trusted. They provide an invaluable tool for police and the apprehension of criminals, but regardless they still present considerable risk to public safety.  Police K-9 handlers need to select, train and handle their dogs in a manner that reduces this risk.

Read more about the vicious attacks on people by police canines