News / Canada

Group calls for body cameras after Vancouver police-dog mauls bystander

Reports say a man lost part of his ear and was bitten by the police dog on his thigh in a police takedown in New Westminster on Monday.

A legal advocacy group in B.C. wants dog handlers with the Vancouver Police Department to wear body cameras.

File photo

A legal advocacy group in B.C. wants dog handlers with the Vancouver Police Department to wear body cameras.

VANCOUVER — A legal advocacy group in British Columbia is calling for dog handlers with the Vancouver Police Department to wear body cameras after a bystander was accidentally mauled earlier this week during a police takedown.

Doug King of Pivot Legal Society says the use of police dogs is on the rise and that recording attacks on video would provide an objective look at situations that prompt their use.

A man was sent to hospital with serious injuries on Monday as three alleged kidnappers were arrested in the Metro Vancouver suburb of New Westminster.

A spokeswoman with a New Westminster hospital says Vick Supramaniam, the person identified in the media as the dog-bite victim, has been discharged. A report from Global News says the man lost part of his left ear and was bitten on his thigh.

"We can't say that collateral damage is OK in our domestic police. It's just not right," King said. "We need to know why the handler made the decision to deploy the dog, why the dog was allowed to maul him for so long."

Vancouver police apologized for the attack, explaining that a "completely innocent person" had been caught up in Monday's incident.

"We were dealing with armed people who were alleged to have committed murders, who have a kidnap victim in their vehicle, and we had to act very quickly," said spokesman Const. Brian Montague.

"Our officers are reaching out to the family to see if there's anything we can do to help them, but there's no doubt that they'll be traumatized."

He said in an email Thursday that accidental bites are very rare and that dogs are used only in serious and dangerous situations when suspects are hiding or running away from police.

A man who answered the phone at the Supramaniam residence said Vick Supramaniam was doing well but that he declined to comment.

The organization in B.C. that investigates serious injuries or death involving police is looking into the incident.

Jason Gunderson, president of the Canadian Police Canine Association, spoke highly of Vancouver's dog unit.

"I know both the trainers out there," he said, speaking on the phone from Regina, Sask. "I know that both of them are excellent dog handlers and that their members receive excellent training."

Gunderson, who is also a dog handler with the Regina Police Service, rejected the suggestion that handlers be outfitted with body cameras to monitor when dogs are deployed in the field. He cited prohibitively high costs and the device's ineffectiveness at fully and fairly capturing a situation.

Each police department across Canada sets its own policy outlining when police dogs should be used, he added, meaning there is no national standard.

Richard Polsky, an animal behaviour expert based in Los Angeles, said dogs serve a crucial role in law enforcement but he emphasized they are very dangerous, often unpredictable animals. Police departments need to use a more rigorous selection process in order to weed out the ones that are difficult to control, he added.

Polsky said attacks on innocent bystanders are very common in the United States.

"These dogs are pumped up on adrenaline. They're out there and the first person the dog feels is a suitable target to attack they will attack," he said. "This is why there are so many attacks on the wrong person.

"The truth of the matter is that some of these dogs are inherently dangerous and should never be employed in a field situation."

Vancouver police established a canine unit in 1957 and it currently has 16 dogs.

The unit respond to more than 10,000 calls a year. The department's website says eight police dogs have died on the job.

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