Public demonstrations should be an integral part of your community relations efforts for various reasons – especially if your K9 program relies heavily or exclusively on private funding or charitable organizations to survive and augment your program. There are many charitable-type non-profit organizations across the country that have been developed or participate with K9-related 501(c)(3) programs – and most of the people associated with these programs want to see your dog work and interact with the public. A demo is almost like a “sales pitch” sometimes.
And, you may also consider these demonstrations as “PR campaigns” as a means to positively influence potential jurors and pro-police supporters to reinforce and demonstrate the effectiveness of your K9 program and why it’s an important asset to your department and the community it serves.
However…your public demonstrations are like a double-edged sword and can be an easy source for trouble should an accidental bite occur…and they do. Accidents and unintentional contacts occur during these PR campaigns and handlers and supervisors must be aware of such and prepare to prevent them. It can happen in the blink of an eye and when you least expect it. You trust your dog…and then that one person either reacts strangely or gets too close or unknowingly prompts your dog negatively when you weren’t expecting it nor ready to respond quickly.
Does your department have a written policy or procedure for dealing with requests to conduct public demonstrations? It should. And, it should start with something similar to;
- All public requests for a K9 team shall be approved by the K9 Sergeant prior to making any commitment.
- K9 handlers shall not demonstrate any apprehension work to the public unless authorized to do so by the K9 Sergeant.
Here are a few questions to consider before approving a request:
- Is the request being made by a local resident, business or organization?
- Is the request being made by a school or private organization?
- If the request is approved, will the K9 handler have control of the immediate area around the demonstration area?
- Is the request for a “static” presentation or formal K9 demonstration?
- Is there any opportunity for an “accidental bite” to occur? If so, how can we prevent it?
- What are the benefits to the police department, the community, and/or the K9 Unit for conducting the demonstration?
- Will the demonstration be open or closed to the public?
After considering these questions and options, a handler and supervisor should discuss and plan a potential demonstration just like it’s a tactical operation by addressing the goals, limitations, obstacles and alternatives – and trouble-shoot for potential problems – and then do a brief back to make sure both understand the roles and responsibilities to ensure a successful demonstration before the request is approved. And, never, never, never explain the safety measures and benefits of a call off to a crowd just before you bravely attempt one…in case it’s not successful!
Lastly, your demonstration will likely be videotaped by a few in attendance and that might include an attorney or advocate who doesn’t like the police or police dogs – so you definitely want to be on top of your game with your verbal communications and control of your dog throughout the event.
Take care, be safe and always prepare in advance for a K9 demo….
Bill Lewis II
“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?