Police Dogs and Deadly Force

Interesting discussion of the issue in Thomson v. Salt Lake County, Utah, No. 06-4304 (10th Cir. Oct. 27, 2009):

Plaintiffs assert that the release of Chaos, Deputy Morrical’s police dog, constituted deadly force because Chaos is trained to bite and hold suspects, which conceivably can cause serious bodily harm and even death, and that it is possible that Chaos was not trained properly. We disagree that the use of a police dog on the facts of this particular case constitutes deadly force, but we leave open the question of whether the use of a police dog could constitute deadly force in other circumstances.
Initially, we decline to deem a police dog’s ability to bite and hold to be sufficient to make Chaos’s release, alone, an act of deadly force. To hold otherwise could result in nearly every release of a police dog being considered deadly force. See, e.g., Jarrett v. Town of Yarmouth, 331 F.3d 140, 143 (1st Cir.2003) (noting that undisputed evidence presented at trial indicated that the vast majority of jurisdictions train police dogs in the bite and hold method); Watkins v.City of Oakland, 145 F.3d 1087, 1091 (9th Cir. 1998) (“Police dogs were trained and tested to bite solidly, bite hard, and hold on.”); Kerr v. City of W. PalmBeach, 875 F.2d 1546, 1550 (11th Cir. 1989) (“Dogs in the canine unit were trained to ‘bite and hold’ a suspect. This method of training is employed by many other police departments throughout the country. The distinctive aspect of this training method is its aggressive nature: unless the handler countermands his order, the dog will seek to seize a suspect even if that individual complies with the officer’s orders. Thus, injury to the apprehended suspect is often inevitable.”); cf. Johnson, 576 F.3d at 661 (“[W]e do not mean to minimize the unpleasantness of having a German Shepherd clamp onto one’s arm or leg. This does not mean, however, that the practice of deploying trained dogs to bite and hold suspects is unconstitutional per se; the situation might warrant the use of a dog that has been trained and that is under the control of the officer . . . .”). Adopting a rule like that advanced by Plaintiffs—one that could essentially preclude the use of police dogs—would not be wise and we discern nothing that would compel us to do so.
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