Providing K9 Assistance for Neighboring Agencies (NEW)

by Bill Lewis II

In law enforcement, we want to be helpful and be of assistance to our neighboring agencies whenever possible.  In return, we hope our neighbors will be available and able to render assistance to us when requested.  As K9 handlers, you look forward to using your police dogs to reduce risks, be safe, and find bad guys.  However, it is especially important that you also assess the risks and rewards of providing K9 assistance to neighboring agencies with respect to utilization of a police dog.

I’m aware of agencies that consider using police dogs strictly as a liability issue and budgetary item without considerations to the benefits for the safety of their officers or others and for these reasons, they selfishly elect not to have police dogs.  I’ve heard them ask “Why should we worry about the liability and associated costs when we can borrow the neighboring agency’s dog?”  It shouldn’t be the responsibility of “the neighbor” to provide a police dog program for the agency that refuses to acknowledge the necessity if one exists.

There is also a concern about liability when a K9 team from one agency is requested to assist another agency and a bite occurs, particularly if an accidental bite occurs or excessive force claimed.  Who assumes the liability?  I know disputes and disagreements have occurred between agencies causing long-term friction when lawsuits are filed and accountability for an incident is sought.

Let me also be perfectly clear with the intent of this article and it is not to discourage the sharing of a valuable resource (the police dog) when truly in need.  The purpose of this article is to suggest an evaluation of your policy, protocol, training, and responsibilities with respect to the many components involved when providing your K9 team to assist another agency.   It is not a simple process and one that is often overlooked or minimized.

First, agencies should have a policy in place to consider and authorize a request from an outside agency for use of a K9 team.  “Someone” like a Watch Commander, Shift (or Patrol) Supervisor, or K9 Supervisor must approve all requests for police dog assistance from outside agencies subject to certain provisions specified within their policy.

The police dog should not be used to perform any assignment which is not consistent with their agency’s policy.  The K9 handler will make the decision as to whether or not the police dog is to be used for the assignment requested by the outside agency unless his/her supervisor determines a use is not appropriate and terminates the assistance.

Most agencies require that a supervisor “must approve all requests” for outside agency assistance requests within their policy and do not consider exceptions that may occur such as rapidly-evolving situations which do not allow for a formal request process.  Often times, a handler may arrive on scene as a backup for a neighboring agency and the circumstances change rapidly that may require a sudden and unplanned call at the scene for assistance.  A handler may be in the area of a request for assistance over the radio that does not reasonably allow for a formal request and approval.  For these reasons and to address these potential situations, I recommend an addition to a policy that reads similar to;

If a request for canine assistance does not reasonably allow sufficient time for a handler or outside agency to contact the Watch Commander, Shift Supervisor, or K9 Supervisor, the handler may use his/her discretion to assist the outside agency consistent with this policy.  If an assist is rendered, the handler will contact the Watch Commander, Shift Supervisor, or K9 Supervisor regarding the assist as soon as reasonably possible.  

I believe in accountability and proper documentation that may be needed later should an investigation be conducted or a lawsuit or other claim be filed.  If a handler is sent to assist an outside agency, he/she should ask for the name of the person authorizing the assist if it is not an immediate notification from that person directly to the handler.  By doing so, the handler confirms that he/she was not arbitrarily sent by a dispatcher who did not seek permission to send the handler per their policy.  And, I also recommend this wording within a policy should a reportable incident occur during an outside agency assist;

If a reportable incident occurs during an assist, the name/rank of the Watch Commander, Shift Supervisor, or K9 Supervisor approving the use of the police dog team will be noted in the report.  If the police dog team assists with a non-reportable incident, the name/rank of the approving Watch Commander, Shift Supervisor or K9 Supervisor will be noted in the Activation Log.

If you do not have a written agreement or Memorandum of Understanding with neighboring agencies addressing the use of your K9 teams when working for them and any potential liabilities, you should consider creating one if reasonable or explore other legal options to protect your agency similar to the provisions of a standard Hold Harmless Agreement. 

If your agency gets sued due to the use of your police dog while assisting another agency upon request, your agency probably should defend itself but the agency should not be expected to defend the other agency that requested that assistance.  And, it is best to know in advance who might pay if a lawsuit is filed and lost pending extenuating circumstances.  I recommend consulting with your administration and legal counsel to discuss further.

If I were writing this article back in November [2020], I might have ended it here with a brief closing statement.  However, based on some recent conversations, I’d like to address the “other half” of this issue as it pertains to actual deployments that may occur when assisting outside agencies.

How many of you as handlers have responded to an outside agency request to conduct a building search, area search, or track and only used personnel from that agency to serve as your backup officers?   If you have only used personnel from the other agency to assist you, how often have you trained with these officers for K9 deployments?  I think the answer to the second question will more than likely be “Never” for most and it is not safe to be deploying without all personnel involved having been properly trained. 

In recent years, the importance of training with your own department personnel who may be involved with a K9 deployment as a matter of liability, safety, and risk reduction has been increasingly emphasized.  You know the risks.  You know the importance of training with your backup officers.  However, handlers are being sent to assist other agencies without having provided the proper training to the backup and support personnel or knowing the proper training has been conducted.  It’s not smart nor safe to do so.

I know several agencies who require at least one deputy or another handler to accompany their K9 handler when responding to an outside agency assist.  Some agencies require a supervisor to accompany the handler.  I think it is reasonable and highly recommended to send a minimum number of personnel from your agency to accompany your handler when going to assist an outside agency if trained to do so and it should be required within your policy.

I also find it troubling that I’ve heard recently of K9 teams from one agency being requested to assist SWAT teams from another agency on real-world operations and no prior training has ever occurred with the involved personnel.   You might recall the “recommendation” that’s been shared for over 20 years with respect to K9 integration; “If you haven’t trained together, don’t deploy together.”  And, to be clear, deploying in the real world is not the same as nor a substitute for training in advance.

I understand the challenges, limitations, staffing issues, and budget impacts of training outside agency personnel that may deploy with your K9 team if your team is being asked to assist another agency and the frequency.  However, one bad incident might cost as much if not more than the cost of providing the necessary training.  

It is possible to provide some type of introductory training to a neighboring agency if they do not have a K9 program if they request assistance periodically from your agency.  What type of training is sufficient?  Who should attend this training?  What is the length of time involved with the training?  What is the risk if we don’t provide this training?  What is the reward if we do provide this training?

If a neighboring agency has a K9 program and you are still providing assistance upon request when their K9 team is not available, or vice versa, are you ensuring the other agency is conducting the same or similar training with their support personnel as your agency?  Do you have the same expectations of performance during a K9 deployment?  If not, you should be on the same page and coordinate some mutual training and discussions to address the issue.

In closing, I recommend you discuss these issues directly related to requests from outside agencies and how these issues might potentially impact your agency and others as you consider the risks and rewards of providing K9 assistance to a neighboring agency.  We want to be helpful, but remember, predictable is preventable. 

Bill Lewis II © December 2020

This article was posted online at TacticalK9USA.com on April 7, 2021, and published in the United States Police Canine Association’s “Canine Courier” (Spring 2021) under the title “The Risks and Rewards of Providing K9 Assistance to a Neighboring Agency.”