New regulations muzzle police dogs

A Maple Ridge man who has been part of the fight to minimize police dog bites applauds new provincial regulation on the animals.

Bill Evanow of Maple Ridge was attacked by a police dog while trying to assist in a chase.

Bill Evanow of Maple Ridge was attacked by a police dog while trying to assist in a chase.

A Maple Ridge man who has been part of the fight to minimize police dog bites applauds new provincial regulation on the animals.

Bill Evanow’s case was part of the impetus for the new standards, announced last week.

He was mauled and permanently injured by an RCMP German shepherd in March 2011 after police chased a suspect onto his Maple Ridge property.

RCMP pursued the car thief from Mission. They boxed in a stolen pickup on a Haney street, and had deflated the tires with a spike belt. But the thief smash through the blockade, and ditched the pickup in Evanow’s driveway.

In a spotlight shone from a police helicopter, Evanow saw the thief running on his property. He gave chase, picking up a snow shovel as he ran. Evanow tripped the thief as he went through his yard, then chased him as he leaped over a fence towards a parking lot off 223rd Street. When he saw the man scale a second fence a fair distance away, he gave up chase.

As Evanow turned around to head back home, he felt a sharp pain as a police dog latched onto his thigh.

Even after the RCMP dog handler arrived, it would not release, Evanow said, and he lay on the ground for several minutes with the big dog biting down on his leg.

“The handler couldn’t get him to release,” he remembers.

Evanow spent eight days in hospital, as the dog literally took a piece out of him. It took six months for his wounds to heal. He still has pain from the injured leg, he said.

Evanow saw up close how police dogs must be considered a weapon.

“They’re pretty threatening animals,” he said. “They’re very aggressive, they’ve got their teeth bared and their hair up, and they’re pretty scary.”

Evanow filed a lawsuit against the RCMP, and his case was used by Pivot Legal Society, which lobbied for more formal controls on police dogs in the province.

“I had an interest in effecting some change. This kind of stuff has to be prevented somehow,” said Evanow. “It can’t be ‘release the dogs first, and ask questions later.’”

Pivot and CTV News investigated the matter, making several freedom of information requests, and found that a police dog bites someone every other day in B.C.

The dog that bit Evanow had been trained in a “bite and hold” method, and dogs trained in that way bite far more often – virtually every time they are released. Other dogs use a “bark and hold” tactic, where they act aggressively, but will not bite unless ordered to attack.

Pivot found that the “bite and hold” dogs are up to 10 times more likely to bite.

Evanow said the new rules will be worthwhile if they keep police dogs from injuring innocent people in the future.

The new provincial standards, which are the first in Canada, are designed to minimize police dog bites and injuries. Among the core principles are that dogs be well trained and always under their handler’s control. They may bite only if someone is causing or about to cause bodily harm, or is fleeing or hiding and there are reasonable grounds for immediate apprehension. The dog handler must verbally warn a suspect that their police dog is about to be deployed.

Every dog and handler team will be tested annually, and must demonstrate their continued ability to be called off, and to remain under control while biting.

Police will be required to complete a detailed report for each bite incident.

In Evanow’s case, the RCMP did not file a report until 11 months after the incident.

The Pivot report found many police dog bites have never been reported.

It also requires police to consider numerous factors in deploying a police dog, including whether the person being apprehended is a young or elderly person.

Police will be, generally, prohibited from deploying their dogs to search for or apprehend a child 12 or younger unless there is an immediate danger.

There were 56 recorded cases in 2010 and 2011 in which RCMP dogs bit someone under 18.

Pivot lawyer Doug King once referred to Evanow’s case “the straw that broke the camel’s back,” because it was such a clear example of police dog maiming the wrong person.

Evanow’s lawsuit against the RCMP is still pending.

The new regulations will come into effect on Sept. 1, 2015.