“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?

“The Retired Police Dog and Handler Liability”

I was reviewing a “release of liability” document from another agency a few days ago that addressed the purchase of a retired police dog by its handler. Here’s the wording that concerns me;

Consistent with the agreement that the canine shall be your sole responsibility and obligation, you agree to indemnify, defend, and hold harmless the [municipality], the [municipality’s police department], and any of its officers, employees, agents, and assigns, current and former, from any claim, loss, damage, or other liability in any forum that is initiated or might be brought against the [municipality] (including the [police department]) by any individual that in any manner arose or resulted from the actions of the canine. This indemnification includes attorneys’ fees and costs in the event the [municipality] is required to litigate any claim or cause of action arising out of your obligation hereunder.

I had a bad flashback to the time I purchased a puppy (when I was the K9 supervisor) that I later trained and certified for narcotic detection and offered to lease the dog to my department for $1.00 per year.  Some of the language in the lease agreement resembled the language above with respect to defending and the indemnification.  When I inquired further, I learned that I would have to pay to defend the city if a lawsuit or claim arose naming the city as a defendant for the actions of the dog.  It didn’t take me long to do the math if I had to pay attorney’s fees to defend the city – and $1.00 per year probably won’t cover it.  We agreed to change the wording and the city would defend themselves for any on-duty incident [and should have included off-duty if not the obvious fault of the handler should both be sued].

I’m not an attorney but it seems to me that the same situation would occur with the language contained within the release above.  For example, if your retired police dog bites someone and you get sued – the chances are great that your agency and city/county will also get sued – and it appears you would have to pay for their defense.  Having served as an expert witness now for the past several years, I can practically guarantee you a claim or lawsuit process probably won’t be cheap and it’s time to ask yourself “Can I afford it if it happens?” instead of saying “It’ll never happen to me!”

These agreements are necessary – for both a department and a handler – but the wording can be changed in the best interest of your K9 program to make sure retired police dogs get a safe place to live out the remainder of their years.  Most handlers will say “It’s not necessary” but why risk it?

An agency should do the right thing and protect its handlers by agreeing to defend themselves if an incident occurs.  I highly recommend you take a look at your agreement now if you have one and consult with an attorney to make sure you are protected if and when the day comes and propose appropriate changes if necessary. If you don’t have an agreement other than a “retired police dog purchase receipt” that could be interpreted as “you are now responsible, not us” you might consider getting a better agreement because you are probably in the same situation with respect to your responsibility and obligation.

This is the first time I’ve shared a “Reason” where I am not personally aware of a handler getting into trouble for the described situation – but it could happen so I’d like to avoid the dilemma for you or others if possible. If this situation happened to you or someone you know, please send me a brief synopsis and its outcome, particularly if it will benefit others.

Here’s a followup on this “reason” I shared on March 6, 2015; 

You’ll recall the recent topic related to a retired police dog agreement and handler liability and I wrote I was not aware of a situation that actually happened.   Well, someone has shared a story that I will share with you as a followup to assist in emphasizing my point about taking steps to protect yourself as a handler and perhaps as a department.  

A standard agreement was signed similar to what I mentioned previously that placed the liability and any potential defense of “the county” with the handler. The retired dog “escapes” the backyard and bites an elderly man, causing very severe injury.  A claim is filed against the handler and the county.  The county steps up and offers to defend itself – even though it is not responsible to do so.  A settlement occurs – the handler’s homeowner’s insurance pays $100,000 and the county pays $75,000.   The exact cost paid by the handler to retain an attorney is not known, but believed to have been minimal as shared costs were incurred with the county to arrange the settlement.

This incident might be an exception – but it was good to read that the county did the right thing.  It was probably in their best interest to do so.   Regardless, here’s an example how you might get in trouble financially if you are not properly prepared and protected in case your department doesn’t do the right thing.  And, you might want to inspect your yard and kennel and take the necessary steps and precautions to prevent an escape.

Take care, be safe and don’t have a “it won’t happen to me” attitude…

Bill Lewis II

This “Reason” was originally shared on February 10, 2014 and updated on March 6, 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?

“Because we’ve always done it that way!”

The general response to the question of “Why do we do it that way?” is usually answered with either “I don’t know” or “Because we’ve always done it that way!”  The general response for “Why don’t we try another way that may be better?” is usually the same.  These responses along with the negative attitudes and unwillingness to implement change usually attributed to the responders are often the root causes for many of the reasons we get in trouble.

Are you satisfied with the status quo?  Do you know if there’s a better way of doing something related to your K9 training or deployments?  Are you satisfied with minimum standards?  Do you want new challenges?  Is “seeking improvement” something that might interest you?  Would you like to try something different that may be better and then openly evaluate it?  Have you heard or learned of a better way perhaps to do something that you hesitate to suggest for fear of the standard reply or negative repercussions?

Yes, the reason we get in trouble might be the primary fault of someone else not willing to change – or give change a chance – but what have you done to suggest that change or attempt it?  I know many handlers that would like to try to take their training to the next level but are stagnated with training methods and philosophies that are outdated and do not seek to improve or challenge to achieve higher standards.  Some handlers have been successful in their attempts to implement change – or try it – and some have not.

Instead of suggesting change and avoiding the “we’ve always done it this way” excuse, handlers are often content to go along with the program and not make waves.  And, when bad things happen – when trouble occurs – these same handlers (and some supervisors) wish they had been more active and persistent in their pursuit of change.

Believe me, I know firsthand how hard it is to recommend a change, make suggestions for improvement, and then be denied “because we’ve always done it that way” – but do not surrender without the proper battle.  You should know the best way to pick a worthwhile battle and initiate it.  If you want to improve personally or expand training opportunities and you have something in mind you’d like to try, be prepared and take the proper steps to propose your suggestion – and be ready to champion your suggestions!

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

Bill Lewis II

This “Reason” was originally shared on March 10, 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?

“All handlers are not created equal”

Yes, we usually expect all of our handlers to be “equal” as we allow them to work the streets with their police service dogs.  We expect them all to be consistent and make the right choices and make the right decisions based on our training, policies and guidelines.  But, their individual level of training and experience isn’t all the same – they are not clones – and if we expect them to all perform equally, we may be asking for trouble.

This reason isn’t just a supervisory one, it also concerns handlers.  I am in the process of creating a chart for K9 deployments to share in the next CL360 class and realized that it’s important we consider the background, training and experience for each of our handlers individually at potential deployments and not routinely assume and believe they are all the same because they are not.  Our expectations of consistent performance within a unit should be the same – but have we prepared them to be consistently similar?

Before a selection process, you have candidates for K9 handler that have differing years of experience, tenure, and previous assignments that may include patrol only or investigations or SWAT or traffic or street crimes, etc.  They may have worked different neighborhoods with more crime or less, they arrested many suspects or few, they worked busy weekend nights instead of slow weekdays, and some may have been involved in more uses of force than others.  We can’t change previous experience.

Once we have selected a handler, we expect them to attend the same training and receive the same instruction to prepare them to work as a K9 team on the street.  We expect them to comply and perform to the standards we have established.  Their certification process will/should all be the same.  However, there are many factors that will now determine how they proceed and experience their role as a handler based on their training and experience they received BEFORE their selection as a handler as well as the training and experiences they will encounter on their own AFTER their selection when working with their individual police service dog.  And, as we well know, not all police dogs are the same – but that’s another factor by itself.

As handlers, some may have more street encounters involving a vast array of decision making than others that have held the same position for the same amount of time.  Some will have more “bites” than others.  Some will work with better dogs than others.  Some will have encountered more high risk situations than others.  The learning curve on the street will not always be equal.  A decision made by one handler may not be the same made by another handler in a similar situation.  And, thus, some will have more “experience” as handlers than others who all work at the same agency.  We can’t change these experiences to make them more equal for all.

So, it’s important to always consider the background of each handler on an individual basis based on their experiences before they were a handler and their experiences as a handler in totality when we evaluate their overall performance as well as review and investigate their deployments and use of force incidents involving the police dog.  We must train equally for the same situations and ensure the same standards are equally applied – and perhaps challenge one K9 team more than the other during training based on these factors – but we cannot assume all performances and decisions will be equal in application.  All handlers are not created equal.

After first posting this reason, I received a few questions like “Good article but how does this get us in trouble?”  Here’s one reply;  I’ve recently seen supervisors and trainers treat everyone equally for street deployment reviews, training and training scenarios. By doing so, they are not seeing the big picture and versatility of their handlers and it can cause trouble when expectations are the same but handlers are not. Some handlers need more individual attention than others based on their experience and particular background. New supervisors, particularly those who have not worked a dog, tend not to see these differences initially and generated this reason based on a few conversations with them.

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

Bill Lewis II

This “Reason” was first posted on April 11, 2018.

“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 review K9 reports”

I read quite a few use reports involving the deployments of police dogs.  And, when I read a marginal report or a bad one, I question what type of procedures or policies are in place for a review of these reports before they are submitted.  I often learn there is no practice that requires a report to be reviewed before its official submission and most reviews occur after the report has been entered into Records.  To be clear – I’m addressing a review process “before” official submission – not a “supervisor’s review” afterward when copies may be forwarded by Records (after submission) to the handler’s assigned supervisor and/or K9 supervisor.

I also am of this opinion with respect to reports and their reviews;  a bad report that becomes an official submission by a handler is as much the fault of the reviewing supervisor as the handler and both should be held accountable for negative consequences.  There is truly no excuse for a bad report to be submitted.

In the “old days” – and perhaps even today – officers were required to submit their handwritten or computer-generated reports into an in-box on the Watch Commander’s desk upon completion or at the end of a shift. Then, the Watch Commander, or another supervisor working in that capacity, would read and “review” the report and sign it (or initial it) as an approval before sending it off to Records.  If the reviewer noticed some problems or had serious concerns that might need to be addressed prior to its official submission, and a delay would not cause any disruption, the officer would be contacted, perhaps questioned about the content, and then asked to rewrite or clarify an issue of concern if necessary.

“Effective authors understand that their written work should be reviewed by at least one person before final submission.  Reviewers read draft works carefully to ensure content is being communicated as intended by the author.”  -Force Concepts 

Reports involving apprehensions by police dogs – and any incident with a potential for liability – should be reviewed thoroughly before official submission.   These are reports that may be read later to determine if criminal charges will be filed, civil claims are filed or lawsuits initiated and the content could heavily determine the fate of those actions.   These are reports that expert witnesses may read later to help form an opinion about the reasonableness – or not – of the actions being documented.

I told my handlers to write a “draft report” on a few occasions if they were involved with an incident with a lot of details that wasn’t simply explained.  I recall writing a few myself where submission was delayed slightly so I could review more thoroughly later. Sometimes, handlers are stressed as a result of the incident and/or in a hurry to write the report before the end of shift or afterward and the ability to appropriately document and address all involved factors may not occur.

Here’s what I wrote in a previous “Reasons” related to report writing;  Like a good FTO, the “reviewer” must also understand how to provide a proper critique or constructive criticism when necessary to improve future reports and perhaps influence better field performance and decision making.  If officers are allowed to continue writing inadequate reports because nobody knows the difference, they are bound to get in trouble even if it involves a good – or bad – incident.

Also, I know about K9 supervisors making “a few changes” to reports written by handlers during a review process and then submitting these reports without notifying the handler of the changes or doing so after the fact.  Don’t do it!  You can only imagine the serious problems that could be later associated with such an irresponsible practice.

If you don’t have a policy or written procedure that requires a review by the Watch Commander, a supervisor or the K9 supervisor of your K9-related reports that may or may not have a potential for liability before their official submission, you might want to consider doing so.  This practice could save you large sums of money and unwanted heartburn down the road.

Take care, be safe and review those reports thoroughly before submitting…

Bill Lewis II

This “Reason” was previously shared as “Report Review” on May 5, 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?

“Bite photos”

I wonder how many of you scrolled through this immediately looking for a graphic bite photo before reading the post – you did, didn’t you? Sorry – but I’m not posting any photos of which I will address as it would defeat the purpose of the post.

Despite over 25 years of constant and consistent warnings from attorneys that represent handlers and their agencies, instructors and people like me to K9 handlers advising them not to snap, store or share “bloody and graphic police dog bite photos,” handlers and other officers continue the ill-advised practice today of taking these photos, storing them on their phones or other personal devices, and sharing them with peers and friends outside of law enforcement. In some cases, these photos are out-of-policy and in direct violation of guidelines that prohibit such.

Here’s a standard policy; Photographs shall be taken of the bite or injury as soon as practicable after tending to the immediate needs of the injured party. Photographs shall be retained as evidence in accordance with current department evidence procedures.

The above policy is subject to interpretation and your interpretation might not be the same as mine. Does tending to the immediate needs mean a wound or bite needs to be cleaned and treated first? It doesn’t specifically read “thou shalt not take bloody photos” does it? I think it needs more specification and tighter restrictions and it must be in writing someplace to hold people accountable.

Handlers, officers, supervisors, and CSI personnel are advised not to take graphic bloody photos as these same photos may find their way in front of a jury later when the handler has been charged with excessive force and the photos might not be viewed as favorable in their defense. Also, these graphic photos do not accurately portray the wound(s) in most cases. For many years, handlers were simply told “don’t take these photos because they don’t look good and they might get you in serious trouble” but that’s not a good guideline to share if you want to put it in writing for a policy and for years I could never get anyone to provide appropriate wording.

I later crafted my own wording to address this issue to share in my canine liability classes that could be inserted into a policy or operational manual as a guideline and I commonly identify it as “The Before and After Rule”;

  • If a bite or injury requires medical attention, the subject should be treated on scene by paramedics or transported to an appropriate medical facility before photographs are taken.
  • Photographs of injuries should be taken after being medically treated and cleaned so as to accurately represent the size and true extent of any wound.

You might recall the video footage last year from the BWC on the handler that directed his dog for a bite on a suspect sitting on a couch and the dog bit the suspect in the face. As the officers were trying to take the suspect into custody on the floor and the dog had been removed from the face bite, and two officers are seen taking photos of the suspect’s face with what appears to be cell phones before the suspect and scene is secured.  Not good.

One other consideration in taking these photos is the evidence factor if you are using your personal cell phone or camera.  And many of you are doing so. Once you start snapping photos and storing them on your personal phone, your personal phone may not be considered your personal phone any longer because it’s now a work phone and it could be subject to discovery or seizure as evidence – for the bite photos and anything else that might be on it. I recommend you check with your attorney or legal counsel for applicable laws in your state or jurisdiction.

You might think “nobody will ever find out” and consider yourself invulnerable. Are you a big gambler and willing to roll the dice? You might think that trouble will not occur if you and others take and save these photos – unless they get discovered. I bet some CHP officers didn’t think any trouble would occur when they took photos in 2006 at a fatal accident scene and shared them – until they were sued and it cost the CHP $2.37 million as a settlement in 2012 for exploiting the CHP-acquired evidence (photos) in a case known as “the Porsche girl” that you can research further online.

“Bite photos” represents the 40th reason of the “Reasons We Get in Trouble” feature that I starting sharing periodically in 2013. I hope most of these reasons have proven to be beneficial and kept you out of trouble.

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

This “Reason” was originally shared on May 25, 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?

“Failure to apply the 55 Rule”

We often make decisions in a split-second – or we like to believe we do.  Our decision making process is ever evolving and proper mental and physical training to prepare for a particular moment or circumstance is critical to assist our decision making.  We should always be mentally accessing our options as we approach a situation – like a potential K9 deployment – so we can make the right decision at the right time under the right circumstances.

“Truly successful decision-making relies on a balance between deliberate and instinctive thinking.” ~Malcolm Gladwell

A few years ago, I was assigned the task of assembling a glossary of tactical terms for the California Association of Tactical Officers (CATO).  A few years prior to this assignment, I attended a class where I first heard the term “The 55 Rule” so I placed it within the glossary and it’s defined as such;

The 55 Rule:  A set of two coinciding questions self-imposed by a tactical commander related to critical decision making prior to initiating a tactical action;  “Is this decision the right one within the next 5 seconds?” and “Will this decision be the right one 5 years from now in civil court?”

Do you apply the 55 Rule as a K9 handler or supervisor?  If not, a failure to do so could be a reason you might get in trouble.  You don’t have to be a tactical commander to apply the rule.

As you might know, some of these civil cases can occur five years after an incident and I actually testified once as an expert witness on a K9 incident that did occur five years earlier.  “Justice” doesn’t move fast – but some of the incidents you may encounter are quick and usually rapidly-evolving.

Many of the decisions that are made by handlers related to police dog deployments are made in the heat of the moment without consideration of the end results.  A handler will often say, “It seemed like the right decision at the time.”  Afterward, during a debrief or deposition, a handler may admit this deficiency in decision making and that usually spells t-r-o-u-b-l-e.

For the purposes of K9 deployments and practical applications, you can easily change the wording within this “55 Rule” definition and replace “tactical commander” with “K9 handler” and change “tactical action” to “police dog deployment.”

 The better your skills and critical thinking are, coupled with training and quickness, the more prepared you will be to make sound decisions in the “blink of an eye!”

If you are confident in your abilities (and your dog’s) and properly prepared, you will be ready to make the right decision when the time comes – and if you are able to consider the 55 Rule before making that final decision and initiating action – or not – it may keep you out of trouble.

Take care, be safe and practice making decisions within a short time span with the long term in mind…

Bill Lewis II 

This “Reason” was originally shared on December 23, 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?

“Circumstances changing in reports”

I previously provided an overall assessment related to report writing titled “Failure to write a good report” as a reason we get in trouble [also posted on this site].  I wrote this comment:  There is a certain style or structure for these [K9] reports that should be presented to identify an order of events, information, thoughts and justifications that are articulated in a clear and chronological sequence.  

In reviewing a few reports recently, I noticed problems that I’ve also seen in the past with respect to “circumstances changing” over the course of an ongoing search but not updated or clarified within the report.  Specifically, the handler articulates the reasons to justify an initial deployment – but – as a search continues, the facts and circumstances change and the handler fails to record the changes accordingly.

You might be scratching your head wondering “What?!?!” so here’s two quick examples;

  1. Multiple suspects hide and a search begins.  One suspect is located and the handler articulates in the report the reasons for deploying the dog based on the facts and circumstances known to him at the time. The dog bites one suspect.  The search then continues, the team locates a second suspect in a different location and the handler does not articulate the reasons to deploy the dog a second time, relying on the same facts and circumstances that were used previously for the first suspect apprehension.  Was any additional information received or known prior to this second deployment?  Was the location the same? Was there more or less risk and danger involved at the new location?
  2. A yard-to-yard search begins and the dog is being sent each time into a yard to search with a command to bite a suspect if found.  The handler may write in the report the facts and circumstances that justify the use of the dog prior to the first search.  The search then continues, several yards are searched, and then the dog alerts to an inaccessible suspect in a shed. The door to the shed is opened and the dog is sent in to bite.  The same reasons offered at the first yard are implied – but not specifically written – for the last deployment that results in an apprehension.  But, did the same set of facts and circumstances apply exactly as before prior to the door being opened?

Conditions, circumstances, environment and risks can change from one search area to another search area.  The risk may increase or decrease.  If you are doing yard-to-yard searches, it’s not necessary to articulate the reasons you are deploying your dog before each yard – but you should be doing so in your mind.  If you do note the circumstances at the first yard and circumstances change later at another yard – they should be addressed.  You might even consider not writing about the specific reasons you are using the dog initially – other than searching for an outstanding suspect – until the exact location of an imminent or actual apprehension occurs.

How could this get you in trouble?  Your report documents your thoughts as well as the facts and circumstances.  What applies in one situation might not apply in the next – and it becomes plainly obvious when the report is more thoroughly reviewed later.  If you originally justified the deployment of your dog based on one set of facts and circumstances – but those facts and circumstances change later – you must write it as it happened and in the sequence it was observed, believed and encountered.  I encourage you to review some of your past reports to make sure you are documenting the facts and circumstances sequentially.

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

Bill Lewis II

This “Reason” was originally shared on January 27, 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?

“Failure to train for distractions”

Can you name a significant difference between a golfer preparing to make a putt and a basketball player preparing for a free throw?  Distractions.  One insists upon “quiet, please” to proceed while the other faces a throng of people yelling, screaming and waving noodle-like apparatuses designed to distract, intimidate and disrupt their attempt.

Can you name a significant difference between a tennis player preparing to return a serve and a baseball player in the batter’s box?  Distractions.  One insists upon “quiet, please” to face a tennis ball that may travel at speeds exceeding 90 MPH while the other has a backdrop of opposing fans yelling and screaming to distract as a baseball is hurled in their direction exceeding 90 MPH.

Can you name a significant difference between the K9 handler who will not deploy or has problems when deploying their police dog into certain dynamic situations (real world or scenario-based exercises) because of bystanders present, other officers on scene and/or other distractions and the K9 handler who will confidently do so and successfully with the same circumstances present because it must be done?  Proper training.

I’ve been present at training sessions where dogs aren’t able to work because they become distracted while other handlers in the background are a little loud while they talk and laugh or maybe they’re within view of the search area.  I’ve conducted training and certifications where dogs can’t heel off leash during obedience as required because a decoy in a bite suit is wandering around or plainly visible nearby.

I’m currently defending a handler [in 2014] for an unintentional bite on a bystander during a deployment.  During the deposition, the Plaintiff’s attorney questioned the handler about training with respect to distractions and bystanders – and the handler admitted they did not train for deploying with distractions or the presence of bystanders.

In police work, we should be preparing and training for every conceivable distraction that may occur.  Yes, there are times when it might not be safe nor appropriate to deploy the dog based on certain distractions and their proximity to the work area – but there will be other times when it will be necessary to do so.  So, you need to have the confidence that your dog will be successful based on your training.

Police work – including K9 – is about dealing with distractions and our ability to work with and through them.  We are the basketball players preparing for a free throw in a tight game situation with distractions.  We are the baseball batters digging in for the fast pitch with a two strike count and distractions.

The etiquette for golfers and tennis players – and their fans – requires “No Disturbance or Distraction” during play.  “Quiet, please, I’m preparing to deploy my police dog” is not a realistic expectation.  Your training should address it and it should keep you out of trouble by doing so.

Take care, be safe and train for distractions…

Bill Lewis II 

This “Reason” was originally shared on July 7, 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?