When Bernard Melekian began working in the '70s as a law-enforcement dog handler, he wished then that there had been information available about interacting with canines to help him in his police work.
Now director of Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS, his office recently released a manual that’s a how-to guide to help officers effectively deal with dogs in their communities.
“I know this would have been a wonderfully useful manual to have back then,” Melekian says in the foreword of the 52-page guide.
It’s also a pet project of Ledy VanKavage and Cynthia Bathurst. They co-wrote “The Problem of Dog-Related Incidents and Encounters,” a partner project with the U.S. Department of Justice’s COPS program, where Melekian now works.
“Law enforcement officers are taught not to engage in racial profiling,” says VanKavage, senior legislative attorney for Best Friends Animal Society and manager of its pit bull terrier initiatives. “This will also help prevent canine profiling by officers and enhance public safety.”
In a nutshell, it’s an instructional manual for law enforcement nationwide on how to humanely handle and deal with dogs without resorting to lethal measures. Also co-authoring the manual were Don Cleary and Karen Delise, with the National Canine Research Council, and Patricia Rushing, with the University of Illinois Center for Public Safety and Justice. In other words, experts in the field of animal welfare pooled their knowledge and wrote the manual.
The project is “a great example of how advocates and government can collaborate to produce a product that is informative, smart, and solution-oriented, and, most importantly, humane,” says Bathurst, Best Friends’ national director of Project Safe Humane.
Officers encounter dogs in the course of nearly every kind of police interaction with the public, and the guide was written, according to the authors, with that in mind -- to give them tools when they make traffic stops, serve warrants, interview suspects and witnesses, and even pursue suspects. As an example, the manual offers instructions for using a Taser on a dog, when circumstances require, to preserve life on both ends. It also includes tips for correctly assessing a dog’s environment, and what dog posture, vocalization and facial expressions mean.
It discusses options for distracting and escaping from a dog as well as asking the right questions during dog investigations, effective gathering of dog evidence and report writing.
Also offered in the manual, Melekian points out, “are powerful recommendations for agencies to improve their dog encounter processes and illustrate those processes to the public in a way that promotes safety for others, the public, and dogs they encounter.”
A free copy of the manual can be downloaded here.