“Training in sterile environments”

One of the more difficult challenges in K9 training is finding a good training venue and finding different ones so you are not always using the same one.  To this day, I still look at vacant buildings, buildings for sale, and open areas often as I drive by as potential training sites for both K9 and SWAT.  And, usually, some of the buildings that are most often available are abandoned and empty – and training in these sterile environments can be a reason we get in trouble if we limit our training to these types of environments on a consistent basis.

During initial training with our police dogs, we should be training in sterile environments to acclimate them to searching buildings and rooms.  We will place accessible decoys in these rooms initially so it easy for the dog to find them and then progressively increase the difficultly of the search with inaccessible decoys behind doors.  We may later use these same environments for remedial training or back-to-basics when necessary.  However, in the real world, we know that our search areas are not always empty rooms – they contain obstacles like furniture and clutter.  We need to spend the majority of our training time in the environments we most expect to encounter.

If you aren’t frequently training your dog to work and search around obstacles like furniture or other barriers, the dog may stop searching to avoid the obstacles and leave the area – or they may not as thoroughly search for a suspect.  The dog needs to learn there could be a suspect hiding around furniture or under it or beyond it.

This training and searching in and around obstacles is not exclusive to the dog – the handler should be experiencing the same challenges with the same obstacles. By doing so, the handler learns to move tactically to clear and progress while also keeping tabs on the police dog and potential threats.

A great training location can often be an abandoned building or building for sale where office furniture has been left behind and can be moved throughout the venue to change the search areas and present different challenges to the K9 teams. And, do not feel forced to train within an environment that is unsafe and possibly presents health risks to you, your dog, and others.

Now, herein lies the other challenge with finding ideal training locations like open businesses (that are preferably closed during your training) and model homes; the likelihood of damaging the premises.  So, when you find a good location, you must take the precautions necessary to make sure you leave the premises as you found them – or you might not get access again.

I know the challenges – been there, done that – but I also know the benefit of finding good training locations or creating them.  I’ve enjoyed conducting training within some awesome training venues and I’ve survived with doing the best I could with some mediocre locations.  If real world locations for your training are minimal or almost non-existent, you should not be discouraged nor abandon attempts to locate and you should solicit support from local businesses and seek to create relations with your local realtors and building contractors. 

If you believe you fight like you train, you must also believe that only training in sterile environments might get you in trouble later when it’s time to fight in a real world environment.

Take care, be safe and make every day a training day….

Bill Lewis II

This “reason” was first shared on February 10, 2020.

“Trouble” isn’t always related to incidents or predicaments that directly result in lawsuits, claims or discipline. Often times, our actions or inactions that are missed, deliberately overlooked or downplayed may lead to nothing or can later lead to mistakes or bad incidents with minimal to serious repercussions.  A reason we get in trouble can be minor or simple at first glance – or even serious – but a combination of these factors can often have disastrous consequences.   

These “reasons” are provided periodically as a collection in-progress based on actual incidents and real attitudes as well as feedback received at HITS, the CNCA Training Institute, and the “Canine Liability 360” classes.  As Gordon Graham says, “We haven’t found new ways to get in trouble.” So, as the list progresses, you may or may not read something familiar to you that you have personally experienced or seen others encounter. If you encountered or heard about it, did you learn from it?

“Failure to train our backup officers”

During our SWAT and K9 integration training many years ago, I first heard the warning “If you don’t train together, don’t deploy together” shared by Brad Smith and it became commonly used to hammer home the necessity of SWAT operators and K9 teams first training for high risk operations and deployments before actually deploying.  Trouble has occurred when tactical teams have not trained together with K9 teams before actual deployments – and injuries have resulted and many narrowly averted. 

“If you haven’t trained together, don’t deploy together!” 

Several years later, I realized that this same warning should also be directed toward K9 teams that work with patrol officers and deputies – and perhaps it is more applicable – because who are the people K9 handlers are working with and alongside most often?  Yet, the vast majority of K9 teams across the country – in my estimation – are deploying with patrol officers in high risk situations without having first conducted proper training to prepare for the risks and dangers associated with these deployments.  A K9 deployment is a high risk situation.  A K9 deployment is a team operation – and it requires teamwork.  Good teamwork requires training.

“On the job training” is not the way to initially conduct business when patrol (backup) officers are preparing for and conducting a K9 deployment. As you well know, there are many different tactics, skills and communications that can be associated with a single deployment before, during and after an apprehension, suspect detection and/or physical arrest.  Every K9 deployment – particularly if there is a physical apprehension with a bite – is unique based on, but not limited to, the individual suspect, the suspect’s level of resistance if any, the environment, the potential for additional suspects at or near the scene, the number of backup officers present, and the training and experience of those law enforcement officers involved in the deployment.  Are your backup officers properly trained to work with you as a handler and protect you and others during a deployment?

“When was the last time you brought patrol officers to your K9 training to work with you as backup officers?”

In my canine liability classes, I’ve been using “If you don’t train together, don’t deploy together” for many years now as part of the “training with patrol” section and I pose the question;  “When was the last time you brought patrol officers to your training session to work as backup officers?”  It is important to not only conduct initial training before that first deployment, but conduct ongoing training to reinforce and refresh the skills, tactics and mindset necessary.  It is considered a perishable skill.

I consider the “failure to train our backup officers” a serious liability issue as well as a safety issue that could get you and your agency in trouble – but more importantly, it’s a common sense issue.  If a backup officer or handler is injured during a K9 deployment that could be deemed a result of not training together, do you think it might be a “failure to train” issue (Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 1989) with serious liability attached for your agency?  Should your agency consider using a little of its training budget now to limit your liability and reduce risks or simply gamble on writing the big check later following a claim or lawsuit after trouble occurs?

Take care, be safe and make every day a training day……

Bill Lewis II

This “reason” was originally shared on April 15, 2015.

“Trouble” isn’t always related to incidents or predicaments that directly result in lawsuits, claims or discipline. Often times, our actions or inactions that are missed, deliberately overlooked or downplayed may lead to nothing or can later lead to mistakes or bad incidents with minimal to serious repercussions.  A reason we get in trouble can be minor or simple at first glance – or even serious – but a combination of these factors can often have disastrous consequences.   

These “reasons” are provided periodically as a collection in-progress based on actual incidents and real attitudes as well as feedback received at HITS, the CNCA Training Institute, and the “Canine Liability 360” classes.  As Gordon Graham says, “We haven’t found new ways to get in trouble.” So, as the list progresses, you may or may not read something familiar to you that you have personally experienced or seen others encounter. If you encountered or heard about it, did you learn from it?

“Quitting”

You’ve seen them, you know at least one, and we often put up with them – but doing so can get us all in trouble as a team and a department.  Quitters are not good police dog handlers.  Quitting is one of the reasons we get in trouble and it is a negative habit that can lead to disastrous results down the road when allowed to occur.

“Winners never quit and quitters never win.” -Vince Lombardi 

I was recently invited to observe training for a small training group.  During the second exercise, a “bite-able suspect” in a bite suit was seated in the driver’s seat of a car, door open and he was refusing to exit and comply with commands from the initial officer on scene following a traffic stop.   After the K9 unit drove up and the handler exchanged information with the initial officer, the handler walked to the back door of his car to retrieve his police dog.  I noticed he awkwardly tried to position himself in front of the door as if to prepare to block the dog from exiting.  As the door slowly opened, I watched almost in disbelief as the dog immediately bolted out of the car door past the handler, refused to comply with a weak recall from the handler and proceeded directly into the car to bite the suspect.   The handler went to the dog, removed it from the bite, and walked back to the car in obvious disgust.  I’m not sure a critique occurred but the “trainer” running the exercise reset the exercise.  The handler did not retry the exercise, entered his car and backed out.  

“Quitting is the easiest thing to do.” -Robert Kiyosaki 

Later, I was standing at the next exercise for another traffic stop that presented its own challenges.  It was also a little dark in the area where I was standing so I said something to another handler nearby like “Hey, let me know when that other handler pulls in for this exercise because I don’t want to be standing anywhere near here in case his dog bolts out again and thinks I might be the target.  I don’t think he can control his dog.”  That handler agreed and added the other handler had already left the training because he wasn’t doing well and it sounded to me like that was something that happened quite frequently.  He simply quit.

We all get a little frustrated at training occasionally.  Sometimes our dog performs well and other times it presents challenges.  However, I’ve learned that quitting and simply driving or walking away from problems in frustration does not resolve the problems.  I’ve learned that bad behavior ignored will not correct bad behavior without further intervention.

“Success seems to be connected with action.  Successful people keep moving.  They make mistakes, but they don’t quit.”  -Conrad Hilton

One of the other problems I saw with this particular situation was the lack of supervision – would that handler have driven off if his supervisor had been present?  What type of “supervised training” was really being conducted that would allow someone to drive off before finishing the scheduled training session – particularly when performing so poorly?  How was that training being recorded and I wonder how the written results of that failed exercise were documented on a training log?  Did the “trainer” later share the results with that handler’s supervisor? 

If I were in charge of that training, that handler would have completed all of the exercises despite the number of attempts to complete successfully because it was obviously apparent both the handler and dog needed some work.  I didn’t inquire further but I was curious.  “I’m now quitting and leaving because my dog is a piece of shit and I can’t control it and I don’t want to try to correct it” is not a reason to leave training before it’s concluded.  It’s the best reason to stay.  And, driving off will not correct the problems with both the handler and the dog.  Yes – it is a problem with the handler as well as the dog.  And – you probably know it is more of a problem with the handler if you’ve seen similar predicaments.

“I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.” -Muhammad Ali

This exercise was not the first time I’ve seen these circumstances.  I’ve watched many handlers unable to control their dog and they will either quit or circumvent the exercise to compensate for that lack of control when nobody holds them accountable.  And, I’ve seen trainers and supervisors allow this conduct to occur without consequences.  What type of message is being delivered?  You get what you accept?  I’ve seen other handlers plead to run an exercise over and over again so that they can get it right when they are having control issues.  Who do you think is the better handler?  Who do you think is more likely to get in trouble? 

It’s easy to say “I quit” and be a quitter but it will not solve problems and trouble will come.  “Never quit” is a good attitude for handlers, trainers and supervisors to adopt and quitting should not be an option. 

Take care, be safe and never quit….

Bill Lewis II

This “reason” was originally shared on November 11, 2015.

“Trouble” isn’t always related to incidents or predicaments that directly result in lawsuits, claims or discipline. Often times, our actions or inactions that are missed, deliberately overlooked or downplayed may lead to nothing or can later lead to mistakes or bad incidents with minimal to serious repercussions.  A reason we get in trouble can be minor or simple at first glance – or even serious – but a combination of these factors can often have disastrous consequences.   

These “reasons” are provided periodically as a collection in-progress based on actual incidents and real attitudes as well as feedback received at HITS, the CNCA Training Institute, and the “Canine Liability 360” classes.  As Gordon Graham says, “We haven’t found new ways to get in trouble.” So, as the list progresses, you may or may not read something familiar to you that you have personally experienced or seen others encounter. If you encountered or heard about it, did you learn from it?

“Failure to give a running announcement”

The adrenaline is pumping, it’s a crime in progress and the K9 handler is arriving on scene as the suspect flees.  The handler bails from the car and the police dog follows and the directed apprehension begins with the handler’s verbal command to the dog to pursue and bite.  But wait – did the handler give an announcement to the suspect while running that identified himself along with “Stop or I’ll send the police dog!” before deploying the dog?

It happens – handlers often forget to give their K9 announcement while running in pursuit of a suspect or don’t believe the suspect will stop if given.  Handlers usually do a great job during static situations when stationed near an entry point to a building, a standoff with a suspect, behind a police car preparing for a high risk vehicle clearing or at the entrance of a residential backyard or a storage yard.   However, handlers often resort to yell something quick and simple and similar to what they’d say without their dog during a foot pursuit – and sometimes nothing at all.  

One of the reasons we get in trouble is failing to give a clearly audible announcement.  I’d like to think it’s a matter of routine – and for the most part, it’s done regularly – but I do know it doesn’t happen as often while handlers are chasing a suspect at the start of or during a foot pursuit.  It’s not easy to yell something clearly during a stressful and dynamic situation that resembles a warning that can be heard by the fleeing suspect (and potential witnesses nearby) while running full speed, breathing hard, and gasping for air.  The handler may be holding on to a firearm and/or a leash with the dog in stride alongside – and then she must yell at the suspect to comply or else with something other than “Police. Stop” before sending the dog.  It is even more difficult when a handler is not physically fit.

Most agencies have their “standard” verbal announcement written in their K9 policy or operational manual – but many do not have the running announcement written or addressed.  You don’t have adequate time to give the standard announcement while running so a much shorter version is recommended and reasonable.  What do you say before you deploy your dog during a foot pursuit?

Here are probably the most common announcements for pursuits;

  • “Sheriff’s Department.  Stop or I’ll send the dog.”
  • “Police.  Stop or I’ll send the dog.”
  • “Stop or I’ll send the dog.”
  • “Stop or I’ll send the police dog.”
  • “Police.  Stop or I’ll send the dog….[breath]…and you will be bitten.” 

Some handlers will recall they gave a proper running announcement afterward because they believe they did – but recordings and witnesses have proven otherwise.  Or, the handler will insist he said “Police. Stop or I’ll send the dog” when he only yelled “Police.  Stop.”  The stress of the moment can change the conditions and recollection.  It is recommended to mentally and verbally rehearse your running announcement beforehand as you are preparing to arrive at the scene where you know a foot pursuit is in progress or believe one will be as you arrive.

I am aware of at least one lawsuit that was lost – in my opinion – primarily because an announcement was not given to a fleeing suspect and it cost the agency $40,000 plus attorney fees to the Plaintiff’s attorney and the costs to defend.

Just like any other post-deployment investigation, make sure you canvas for witnesses that heard (or didn’t hear) the announcement or part of it and record their words of what they specifically heard – not what you think they heard or a brief summary. Never only ask “Did you hear anyone give an announcement?” Instead, follow an affirmative reply with “What exactly did you hear?” And, tape record or body cam the interview(s).

One of the best ways to instill this running announcement in handlers is through policy and constant training.  It’s no different than how you insist upon the standard announcement at the start of most static searches during training.  You can setup quick training scenarios involving pursuits and recalls.  If handlers are being trained (and evaluated) continually to give the proper running announcement in training scenarios, they should do the same in a real world situation.

Take care, be safe and practice your running announcement…

Bill Lewis II

This “reason” was originally shared on May 20, 2015 and updated January 14, 2020.

“Trouble” isn’t always related to incidents or predicaments that directly result in lawsuits, claims or discipline. Often times, our actions or inactions that are missed, deliberately overlooked or downplayed may lead to nothing or can later lead to mistakes or bad incidents with minimal to serious repercussions.  A reason we get in trouble can be minor or simple at first glance – or even serious – but a combination of these factors can often have disastrous consequences.   

These “reasons” are provided periodically as a collection in-progress based on actual incidents and real attitudes as well as feedback received at HITS, the CNCA Training Institute, and the “Canine Liability 360” classes.  As Gordon Graham says, “We haven’t found new ways to get in trouble.” So, as the list progresses, you may or may not read something familiar to you that you have personally experienced or seen others encounter. If you encountered or heard about it, did you learn from it?

“Limiting social opportunities”

A few months ago, a handler told me that their police dogs are not allowed inside of their police station.  I’d never heard of that restriction before and then another handler from another agency tells me last month the same restriction is implemented at their agency.   In both cases, the policies were implemented “years ago” based on “bad bites” occurring within the respective stations.  And, because of these two policies, I’m thinking there may be more of you with similar restrictions. 

Now, one simple way to avoid potential trouble is to prohibit police dogs from police stations.  However, by doing so, the police dog is also being prohibited from valuable interaction with other officers and it is limiting social opportunities that may prove to be beneficial on the street during the deployment of the dog when these same officers are being integrated with the K9 team as support personnel. 

It was our policy that each handler would attend their patrol briefing (roll call) with his/her police dog for each briefing.  This attendance does not have to be a fun and social activity for the dog each and every time nor should it be.  This policy provides a social opportunity to take place under the supervision of the handler with the approval and consensus of the officers present prior to the start of each briefing and not active during the briefing.

The interaction can be as subtle and brief as petting the dog or a non-verbal acknowledgement because a police dog often reacts positively to a simple smile or head nod.  I’ve watched my dog and others lay quietly at the feet of other officers during a briefing.  Some dogs may not interact well initially but I believe it’s essential they learn to do so.  I’ve seen some handlers sit alone in a corner of the briefing room with their dog because of sociability problems – not a confidence builder for other officers – while other handlers sit adjacent to officers with their dogs at their feet or in close proximity.

Author’s Update: It should be a requirement that a handler and their police dog attend all briefings to be introduced and acknowledged if they will be on scene – including SWAT operations. warrant services, parole/probation searches or sweeps, fugitive apprehensions, etc. – even if the K9 team is only assigned to perimeter duties or initially staged out of the area to be used only if needed.

By mandating this presence and potential interaction within a controlled setting on a daily basis, we are preparing for future interaction under different circumstances on the street that are often stressful and high risk.  You want your police dog to be comfortable working around other officers – and vice versa – and you will not get the same opportunity for this consistent interaction outside the police station during normal working conditions.  It is not a fail safe method – you may still encounter problems on the street – but you will more than likely avoid serious trouble and limit your liability.

I’m not a big fan of letting the police dog walk on leash through the police building even under the control of the handler without a legitimate reason (like heading for the required briefing) and never should it be allowed to roam uncontrolled around the premises off leash.

I don’t recall the specifics about the incidents that prompted the two policies above, but I’m fairly certain they were probably all unintentional and avoidable. And, yes, it doesn’t look good when this type of trouble happens. However, it’s better to implement preventative measures and take proper action if incidents do occur rather than prohibit important interaction.

Take care, be safe and encourage positive social opportunities….

Bill Lewis II

This “reason” was originally shared on March 24, 2014.

“Trouble” isn’t always related to incidents or predicaments that directly result in lawsuits, claims or discipline. Often times, our actions or inactions that are missed, deliberately overlooked or downplayed may lead to nothing or can later lead to mistakes or bad incidents with minimal to serious repercussions.  A reason we get in trouble can be minor or simple at first glance – or even serious – but a combination of these factors can often have disastrous consequences.   

These “reasons” are provided periodically as a collection in-progress based on actual incidents and real attitudes as well as feedback received at HITS, the CNCA Training Institute, and the “Canine Liability 360” classes.  As Gordon Graham says, “We haven’t found new ways to get in trouble.” So, as the list progresses, you may or may not read something familiar to you that you have personally experienced or seen others encounter. If you encountered or heard about it, did you learn from it?

“Focusing on the dog first”

How many times have you seen a handler so concerned about his/her police dog and so focused on watching their dog work that they seem almost oblivious to their surroundings, their own safety or the safety of other officers?  A tragic incident occurred last year when a handler left cover officers without warning because he was concerned about his dog’s brief encounter with a suspect – placing himself unnecessarily in harm’s way that subsequently led to the death of the suspect.

Handlers will often experience “tunnel vision” as they watch their dog work and this bad practice is usually a result of their training.  Some trainers and instructors will continually hammer into handlers that they must “watch your dog” at all times.  You might miss a slight indication or a brief change in behavior.  An innocent person or surrendering suspect might appear from around the corner and you must be ready to recall your dog.  By demanding compliance of this poor practice over and over again in training, the practice will continue over to the street.  And, it’s not safe to do so!

Yes – watching your dog constantly during your initial training is important.  Yes – you might later miss a slight indication or a change in behavior.  Yes – you must be ready to recall your dog if an innocent person or surrendering suspect appears.  But – you must also be consciously aware of your environment, the potential for other people to be present and a primary safety principle known as “cover and concealment” for you and your cover officers.   You must be able to focus on more than your dog! 

When I was novicing to be an NPCA certifying official, I liked that the patrol certification required handlers to “move tactically” within their search areas.  Now, my take on moving tactically was obviously a little different having been a SWAT operator for over 25 years, and I observed various degrees of tactics by handlers as they moved and waited while their dogs searched, but the overall concept was good.  It may or may not create some muscle memory when working a real deal.

Handlers will often leave cover too quickly and move into the open and sometimes without their firearm drawn and ready if needed.  Once again, they are so focused on their dog first that they often subconsciously forget about their own safety and potentially proceed into harm’s way.  The cover officers can’t cover.  The dog will not deflect bullets heading your direction as it searches.  

In training, handlers are often discouraged from drawing their firearm because they’re being told to focus on their dog and might need both hands to restrain and control it and should rely on their cover officers.  However, in the real world with maybe only one backup officer or none, handlers must be thinking about self-preservation and watching their own ass (CYA) first instead of their dog’s.  Learn to control your dog without using your hands or relying on a leash.  Train to shoot with your dog in close proximity and shoot with your dog a short distance away. If you’re worried about the condition of your gun while being used during K9 training scenarios – use a Red Gun or something similar for training purposes.  Our unit had four of these guns for training.

It’s okay to draw your firearm when you are giving an announcement based on the circumstances if you need the extra fire power and a backup officer isn’t over the top of you or you’re separated in distance due to the terrain.  However, don’t draw your firearm if you are not prepared to use it.  Be confident and aware.  It’s okay to proceed tactically while your dog works because your cover officer(s) can’t always provide cover everywhere. When you don’t need your gun, re-holster it.  It’s okay to take your eyes off your dog momentarily as you look at your surroundings and potential threats while proceeding through a search area.  It’s called “situational awareness.”  If you only watch your dog, you will miss threats and might jeopardize your safety.

As a handler, you are often tasked with evaluating a situation and making a plan to safely deploy.  As part of that planning and subsequent deployment, you truly must be more concerned about your safety and well-being as well as the officers working with you.  Do not place your cover officers at a disadvantage because you move too quickly out of concern for your dog – and not them.  Your dog’s safety is also important – don’t disregard it – but it is not more important than you and those that protect you and depend on you.  You must openly discuss the matter with those that work with you and then insist that your training reflect the real dangers that you may all encounter on the street and train, train, train to overcome the poor practice of focusing on your dog first. 

Thanks to Darryl DiSanto for originally suggesting this “reason” and kick-starting the process for me to address it.

Take care, be safe, and focus on what’s important now….

Bill Lewis II

This “reason” was originally shared on February 18, 2015.

“Trouble” isn’t always related to incidents or predicaments that directly result in lawsuits, claims or discipline. Often times, our actions or inactions that are missed, deliberately overlooked or downplayed may lead to nothing or can later lead to mistakes or bad incidents with minimal to serious repercussions.  A reason we get in trouble can be minor or simple at first glance – or even serious – but a combination of these factors can often have disastrous consequences.   

These “reasons” are provided periodically as a collection in-progress based on actual incidents and real attitudes as well as feedback received at HITS, the CNCA Training Institute, and the “Canine Liability 360” classes.  As Gordon Graham says, “We haven’t found new ways to get in trouble.” So, as the list progresses, you may or may not read something familiar to you that you have personally experienced or seen others encounter. If you encountered or heard about it, did you learn from it?

“Training is cancelled”

It is often very easy for someone who doesn’t care about or fully understand the liabilities and training maintenance issues associated with a K9 unit to arbitrarily cancel training or cut back the hours.  The “national standard” recommends that each K9 team conduct 16 hours of training minimally per month.

“It’s busy – we can’t afford to let the K9 team go train.”  If you’ve done any mathematical calculations on recent K9-related lawsuits compared to training hours, you will quickly realize you can’t afford NOT to let your K9 teams train regularly to potentially avoid trouble. And, many of these supervisors cancelling training do so without fear or thought given to the consequences should a bad incident occur and a claim or lawsuit follows – there is generally a lack of accountability. “It’s busy” is one of the classic (and least supportable) reasons used by many to avoid training or cancel it – and it’s clearly an invitation for trouble.

I understand that training may need to be cancelled on occasion.  When training is cancelled, and there is no rescheduling, a memorandum or some documentation should be required from the supervisor or administrator doing so and placed into a handler’s training file because “it’s busy” or other excuse simply may not be helpful down the road to explain the situation in front of a jury. 

If documentation to cancel is not required from a supervisor, I would be documenting it on my own starting with something like “On this date and time, Supervisor X notified me that he was cancelling my [regularly scheduled] maintenance K9 training…” with the reason provided why the training was cancelled and any other relevant circumstances – and this could also be documented within an email to the K9 supervisor or K9 Commander if another person is responsible for the cancellation.  If the K9 supervisor cancels training and does not allow for rescheduling, I recommend documentation as suggested on a training log or other suitable form so that it goes into the training file and will be discoverable later if needed. 

Every training day or time of regularly scheduled training should have an official training form or log that records the training that occurred or contains a notice within that form indicating training did not occur (or had limited hours than normally scheduled) so there are no “blanks” in your training files. The reasons you might not train; vacation, IOD, sick day, court, staffing issues, calls for service, etc.

Your training hours and required maintenance training schedule should be memorialized within your K9 policy or in the K9 Unit Operational Manual so that violations can be appropriately addressed if necessary.  As you well know or may have experienced, schedules or “required training” is more difficult to circumvent or cancel if written or mandated within a policy.

“Budget problems” used as a reason to cancel training?  Many years ago, Attorney Martin J. Mayer sent a client memo to police chiefs and sheriffs in California addressing the obligation to provide training to law enforcement officers even when there is a cut back to training funds;

“The duty to train officers is unaffected by reimbursement sources. The lack of funding from outside sources does not, in any way, relieve a department of its obligation to train its officers. The decision to eliminate training programs or reduce the amount of training, based upon the lack of reimbursement sources, would most likely be viewed, by a court, as deliberate indifference to the rights of others.”

If you’d like to do a little further research on your own about the topic, I recommend you review the following two cases minimally;  City of Canton v. Harris, 489 US 378 109 S. Ct. 1197, 103 L Ed 2d 412 (1989), and Campbell v. City of Springboro, Ohio, 788 F.Supp.2d 637 (2011), United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Western Division.

There are legitimate reasons we are required to train regularly and performance can deteriorate and potentially suffer when it does not occur.  Failure to do so creates liability. When training is cancelled, the person doing so usually does not think ahead of potential consequences and does not envision themselves later on the witness stand trying to explain the reason training was cancelled and not rescheduled.  If that forecasting happened more often as part of the analysis prior to taking action, they would probably not cancel training (as often) and trouble could be avoided. 

Take care, be safe and try to work as a team to avoid cancelling training….

Bill Lewis II

This “reason” was originally shared on October 28, 2015.

“Trouble” isn’t always related to incidents or predicaments that directly result in lawsuits, claims or discipline. Often times, our actions or inactions that are missed, deliberately overlooked or downplayed may lead to nothing or can later lead to mistakes or bad incidents with minimal to serious repercussions.  A reason we get in trouble can be minor or simple at first glance – or even serious – but a combination of these factors can often have disastrous consequences.   

These “reasons” are provided periodically as a collection in-progress based on actual incidents and real attitudes as well as feedback received at HITS, the CNCA Training Institute, and the “Canine Liability 360” classes.  As Gordon Graham says, “We haven’t found new ways to get in trouble.” So, as the list progresses, you may or may not read something familiar to you that you have personally experienced or seen others encounter. If you encountered or heard about it, did you learn from it?

“Failure to learn from the mistakes of others”

“Whether we like to admit it or not, mistakes occur on a fairly regular basis.  If we’re lucky, the mistake causes embarrassment and creates a humorous story.  If we’re unlucky, the consequences can be severe or tragic or both.” -Steven “Randy” Watt

If you’ve attended one of my Canine Liability 360 classes, you know that “failure to learn from the mistakes of others” is the number one reason I identify as to why persons affiliated with a K9 program get in trouble.  When we fail to learn from others when they are making or have made mistakes, we are destined to make the same mistakes ourselves.

Unfortunately, we don’t do a good job sharing our mistakes.  So, we must take full advantage when possible.  A solid practice requiring a debriefing following training and K9 incidents or involvement will assist to identify problems as well as successes.  And, whenever possible, share your mistakes with others so they can learn also.

“Successful or not, every tactical [K9] operation yields fruit in the form of lessons learned.” -Charles “Sid” Heal

A debrief following training, a deployment or a high risk patrol encounter is essential and should be mandatory because it serves as an invaluable source in determining lessons learned from an incident so that good performance continues, satisfactory performance improves, and poor performance is not replicated.

“You have to learn from the mistakes of others. You won’t live long enough to make them all yourself.” -Hyman G. Rickover

Take care, be safe and learn from the mistakes of others….

Bill Lewis II

This “reason” was originally shared on September 17, 2013.

“Trouble” isn’t always related to incidents or predicaments that directly result in lawsuits, claims or discipline. Often times, our actions or inactions that are missed, deliberately overlooked or downplayed may lead to nothing or can later lead to mistakes or bad incidents with minimal to serious repercussions.  A reason we get in trouble can be minor or simple at first glance – or even serious – but a combination of these factors can often have disastrous consequences.   

These “reasons” are provided periodically as a collection in-progress based on actual incidents and real attitudes as well as feedback received at HITS, the CNCA Training Institute, and the “Canine Liability 360” classes.  As Gordon Graham says, “We haven’t found new ways to get in trouble.” So, as the list progresses, you may or may not read something familiar to you that you have personally experienced or seen others encounter. If you encountered or heard about it, did you learn from it?

“Forging ahead”

If you’re a handler, you’re probably familiar with the term “forging ahead” and it’s primarily associated with obedience work.  We usually aim to prevent our dogs from forging ahead of us when moving with the dog off-leash or on-leash during a normal walk, crowd interaction, obedience, trials and certifications – keeping the dog close, tight, easily within arm’s reach.  It looks good when your dog doesn’t forge ahead and it also demonstrates control.  The result is a purposeful product of training.  If your dog forges ahead unnecessarily or on its own, trouble can sometimes occur.

Forging ahead:

  1. To move ahead slowly; progress steadily.  “To forge through dense underbrush.”
  2. To move ahead with increased speed and effectiveness.  “To forge ahead and finish the work in a burst of energy.”

Unfortunately, there are many handlers today who are “forging ahead” of their backup officers and support personnel when searching, tracking, trailing or pursuing wanted persons or proceeding solo as a K9 team.  You’ve heard the stories.  You’ve read about the tragic results.  So, why has the deployment practice continued?  Do you forge ahead?  If you do – then why do you do it?

“It is always wise to look ahead, but difficult to look further than you can see.” -Winston Churchill

One of the more common faults of our K9 training is allowing handlers to train alone for deployments or as a single entity for the majority of their time or training for real world searches and apprehensions without backup officers.  When this training occurs, handlers get accustomed to following their dog as it searches, tracks, trails or pursues without giving concern or relevance to the absence of backup officers.  Nothing bad ever happens in training, right? The dog is released, the handler follows.   And, you can probably predict what will happen in the real world – the same as in training.  However, it’s not a safe practice.

“We fight [deploy] like we train.”

I understand the limitations and restrictions – budgets and staffing – that often occur to prevent realistic, practical and safe training.  It’s sometimes an issue of patience – or lack of it.  It’s sometimes due to a lack of supervision and accountability.  It’s sometimes due to poor or inadequate training.  It’s sometimes due to improper mindset. However, as a handler’s training progresses, the handler (and trainer and supervisor) must realize that it’s dangerous to forge ahead of others because anticipated or unanticipated deadly threats might be encountered in an area or along a trail.

Some of you might not have backup readily available – but is your life worth waiting a little longer?  What is the risk versus the reward?  What would your family want you to do?  Some of you might not be able to officially train with others – but can you take the initiative to spend some time training others on your own so you can have better backup? Some of you will continue to forge ahead and be in front regardless – but can you seriously justify this tactic with your life potentially on the line?  Predictable is preventable.

From 2006 to 2014, there were five K9 handlers tragically killed during tracking-type deployments as they led from the front without backup close by or no backup at all.  I’d like to think each of those handlers would offer a piece of advice to other handlers today if they were able to do so that might sound something like “Wait for sufficient backup before proceeding and utilize them properly for cover as you search.”

Take care, be safe and don’t get caught forging ahead….

Bill Lewis II

This “reason” was originally shared on April 1, 2015.

“Trouble” isn’t always related to incidents or predicaments that directly result in lawsuits, claims or discipline. Often times, our actions or inactions that are missed, deliberately overlooked or downplayed may lead to nothing or can later lead to mistakes or bad incidents with minimal to serious repercussions.  A reason we get in trouble can be minor or simple at first glance – or even serious – but a combination of these factors can often have disastrous consequences.   

These “reasons” are provided periodically as a collection in-progress based on actual incidents and real attitudes as well as feedback received at HITS, the CNCA Training Institute, and the “Canine Liability 360” classes.  As Gordon Graham says, “We haven’t found new ways to get in trouble.” So, as the list progresses, you may or may not read something familiar to you that you have personally experienced or seen others encounter. If you encountered or heard about it, did you learn from it?

“Speaking without thinking”

Did your parents ever tell you “Think before you speak”?  Do any of your supervisors ever tell you “Evaluate your audience before you speak”?  Simply stated, speaking without thinking (and not evaluating your audience before doing so) can get you in trouble.

I wish I’d started a collection of “statements” by handlers and K9 supervisors that I’ve read and heard over the years that caused me to say aloud or think “Did they really say that?” so that I could share them with you but you may have heard some of the same. Many of these statements have been made in depositions by handlers and I truly wonder who prepared them in advance for their depositions.  Many of the questions being asked by Plaintiff’s attorneys are similar and revolve around the same issues; policies, use of force, Graham v. Connor, alternative options, and warnings.  As I suggest in each 360 class I teach, you should be anticipating the questions in advance and rehearsing your answers appropriately with the correct summation with or without your attorney before you participate.

Comments made on the scenes of deployments by handlers and support personnel are just as important to consider – especially after unintentional bites.  You might make a comment that doesn’t seem important or you believe it’s proper at the time – but the “bite victim” as a suspect and/or an eventual Plaintiff may remember it specifically (and it may be recorded by a BWC or other device to confirm or refute) and it may not sound good later nor assist your cause.  [Author’s 2018 update:  I have viewed several recordings from BWC’s within the past year with inappropriate comments recorded.]

The recent [2016] Lowry v. City of San Diego (U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit) case probably provides one of the best recent examples of “speaking without thinking” after the police dog, deployed for a search of a commercial building believed to be burglarized, bit the lip of an employee (Lowry) sleeping on a couch.  Shortly after the incident, according to the court transcripts, the handler told Lowry something similar to, “I just can’t believe that’s the only damage [caused by the dog bite]. You’re very lucky. She [the police dog] could have ripped your face off.”  This statement is believed to have been a strong tipping point of this incident with respect to the Court’s view of the use of force that was used for the situation. [Author’s 2018 update:  This decision was later overturned – as it should have been – but the lessons learned related to comments are still relevant for the purposes of learning.]

Becker v. Elfreich (U.S. Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit) is the second recent case that comes to mind where the handler testified that his police dog was capable of inflicting “lethal force” and that there is a probability of him doing so.  The problem with the statements related to this particular incident involves the deployment of the dog on a surrendering suspect and the use of “lethal force” to deal with the situation which does not appear to require lethal force.  I don’t think an appropriate answer regarding the “lethal force” aspect to this situation was considered if at all or rehearsed before giving it.

If and when you make comments before, during or after a deployment, take a look around before you speak and evaluate your audience of suspects, victims, witnesses, and other officers.  You may decide after evaluating the audience that some comments might be appropriate and some may not.  There’s a time to speak, a time to remain silent.

Please don’t get the wrong impression that I believe all handlers are doing this – they are not. For the most part, handlers do a decent job and some do an outstanding job.

Speaking without thinking can get you in trouble.  You might also consider this friendly warning;  You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say wrong, inappropriate or misinterpreted will definitely be used against you in a civil court.

Take care, be safe and think before you speak…

Bill Lewis II

This “reason” was originally shared on August 10, 2016

“Trouble” isn’t always related to incidents or predicaments that directly result in lawsuits, claims or discipline. Often times, our actions or inactions that are missed, deliberately overlooked or downplayed may lead to nothing or can later lead to mistakes or bad incidents with minimal to serious repercussions.  A reason we get in trouble can be minor or simple at first glance – or even serious – but a combination of these factors can often have disastrous consequences.   

These “reasons” are provided periodically as a collection in-progress based on actual incidents and real attitudes as well as feedback received at HITS, the CNCA Training Institute, and the “Canine Liability 360” classes.  As Gordon Graham says, “We haven’t found new ways to get in trouble.” So, as the list progresses, you may or may not read something familiar to you that you have personally experienced or seen others encounter. If you encountered or heard about it, did you learn from it?