Skip to content

B.C.'s police watchdog exonerates VPD officer in police dog bite case

A man was caught using a police dog, which bit him and seriously injured his leg.
A Vancouver Police Department officer won't face charges for using a police dog to apprehend a suspect.

A Vancouver police officer won't face the courts for using a police dog to apprehend a suspect last year.

The Independent Investigations Office of BC (IIO BC) has released a report about an incident on March 25, 2021, when a police dog bit a suspect who was hiding after fleeing police. During the incident, the man was bitten and seriously injured by the dog.

It started just before 3 a.m. when an officer spotted a man "tinkering" with a motorcycle with no licence plate, according to the report. The officer approached the man and asked for his name. During the conversation the man gave a fake name and the officer grew suspicious. In the report, the man told the IIO BC he was out past his curfew (a prior release condition).

At this point the man tried to leave on the motorcycle but wasn't able to get it started. The officer blocked the motorbike's exit with his car, got out, and tried to grab the man, at which point the motorcycle fell over.

According to the officer, the man made a motion that looked like he may have been grabbing for a weapon, so the officer drew back, pulled out his baton, and told the man he was under arrest for obstructing a peace officer.

Instead of complying, the man ran.

He fled into a dark laneway, according to the report, and the officer called for backup before pursuing.

A canine team arrived to help, and they tracked the man several blocks away to a dark and narrow walkway through a gate near a laneway house.

When the officers approached him they could see something in his hands. In a witness statement, the canine team officer said she couldn't see what it was.

According to the report, the statements from the canine team officer and the man differ.

In a statement to the province's police watchdog, the man said the officer approached and sent the dog even though he was already lying on the ground and in a position to surrender to police.

"The dog handler, though, let the dog 'run at' him, and it started 'ripping at' his thigh," notes the report, quoting the man.

He says the dog was still biting him as he was being arrested, and caused three separate wound areas over 10 minutes.

According to the canine team officer, she announced the dog was going to be used and sent the dog to attack before giving much of a warning in case the man tried to escape. When she did release the dog, she says the man was moving and brought his knees up to his chest.

"The suspect was very close to a gate that led out onto [the street]. He could easily escape through that gate," she told the IIO BC through legal counsel. "Pursuing him on a street would be more dangerous to him, to me, and to [the PSD], than apprehending him immediately where he was hiding when I first saw him."

She added there were also concerns the man had a weapon.

In security camera footage from the scene, the report notes the man was crouched and then moved to cover his face and bring his knees up to his chest as the dog ran towards him. After the dog bites his leg, the officers approach and arrest him before removing the dog from the man's leg.

In the decision, the IIO BC civilian director notes the offence was non-violent, so the use of a police dog might not be deemed a proportionate response. And while risk of bodily harm to a third party, officer, or a police dog are reasons to allow a police dog to bite, another is if there is a person fleeing who may be apprehended if the dog is allowed to bite them.

The handler is supposed to weigh the seriousness of the crime against the potential injury of the suspect, but there's no prohibition against using a dog to stop someone from fleeing.

The director notes that in his personal opinion police dogs shouldn't be allowed to bite suspects who didn't cause or risk bodily harm, but current standards don't prohibit that.

As for giving a longer warning period, the director agreed that a longer warning may have allowed the man to escape.

"Given the potential for danger and escape, I am not able to find that the actions of [the canine team officer] were unreasonable," he writes. "As a result, this matter will not be referred to the Crown for the consideration of charges."

push icon
Be the first to read breaking stories. Enable push notifications on your device. Disable anytime.
No thanks