K-9 announcements: Dos and don’ts
Author Jerry Hunter details the methods and importance of giving K-9 announcements
By Jerry Hunter
How many of you have experienced this at training during searches: "OK, Officer Jones: bring your dog, give two announcements and send him."
All too often this exact scenario occurs multiple times throughout the day during maintenance training sessions. This is what I like to call the "training mode" mindset. This type of mindset could not be any more opposite to what I refer to as the "street mode" mindset. Although I will not elaborate further on where your head should be during training and when you're out working the streets, I will discuss in detail the police K-9 announcement and its importance.
This article encompasses the reason for giving a K-9 announcement, court rulings about when officers are not required or expected to give an announcement, the elements of the announcement, and case-law decisions pertaining to K-9 announcements.
Currently, there are seven canine-specific cases that mandate giving suspects a warning prior to using a police K-9 as a potential use of force tool. Summaries of the facts and judicial rulings for these seven cases are provided below.
Burrows v. City of Tulsa (10th Circuit)
Court's findings and rulings pertaining to the K-9 announcement: The Appeals Court stated that although the jury did not reach a unanimous decision, the jury could have found that the handler's actions - his failure to warn plaintiff and his decision to put the dog over the fence and let him go free (while the handler remained on the other side, knowing that if the dog found plaintiff, he would attack and could not be called off with a voice command) - were not objectively reasonable.
Trammel v. Thomason (11th Circuit)
Court's findings and ruling pertaining to the K-9 announcement: The court concluded that given these facts, a reasonable jury could conclude that the use of the canine in the manner prescribed constituted unreasonable and excessive use of force in violation of plaintiff's constitutional rights under the Fourth Amendment. Trammell testified that while in the small residential backyard, he heard no warning and that under the circumstances he would have heard one if it had been given. Court concludes that a jury could find that a K-9 announcement was not given.
Sorchini v. City of Covina (9th Circuit)
Court's findings and rulings pertaining to the K-9 announcement: The court referred to Kish v. City of Santa Monica. The Kish case held that there has been no decision by the Ninth Circuit or the Supreme Court that police should give a warning before non-deadly force is used on a person. Because Kish is an unpublished opinion, it is not a precedent and neither Kish's holding, nor observations about the state law, have any bearing. The City of Covina presented uncontroverted evidence that police policy requires its officers to give a warning prior to using a dog.
Vathekan v. Prince George's County (MD, 4th Circuit)
Court's findings and rulings pertaining to the K-9 announcement: It is clearly established that it is unreasonable for a police officer to fail to give a verbal warning before releasing police dog to seize someone.
Kuha v. City of Minnetonka (8th Circuit)
Officers were confronted by Kuha's unexplainable flight in the early morning hours. Kuha had chosen to swim through a swamp. There were inhabited apartments nearby and residents would soon be leaving for work. Officers were concerned for the residents' and their own safety, as it was not known whether Kuha was armed. A police K-9 was used to track Kuha; the dog found Kuha in three-foot-high grass and bit him. No announcement was made prior to the K-9 finding and biting Kuha.
Court's findings and rulings pertaining to the K-9 announcement: Kuha was not given an opportunity to surrender prior to being bitten by the K-9. The court concluded it was objectively unreasonable to use a police dog trained in the bite-and-hold method without first giving the suspect a warning and opportunity for peaceful surrender.
The court stated, "We agree that officer safety is paramount but disagree that requiring a verbal warning will put officers at increased risk. To the contrary, such a practice would likely diminish the risk of confrontation by increasing the likelihood that a suspect will surrender. While there may be exceptional cases where a warning is not feasible, we see no reason why officers could not have placed themselves out of harm’s way, and given a loud verbal warning that a police dog was present and trained to seize by force."
The court concluded that the law with respect to the use of police dogs was not sufficiently established in September 1999 when this incident occurred, and that a reasonable officer would have known that the failure to give a verbal warning could be deemed unconstitutional.
Szabla v. City of Brooklyn Park (MN, 8th Circuit)
The K-9 handler used a 15-foot leash and began a track for the driver through a park. No K-9 announcements were ever given. The K-9 led officers to a shelter inside the park. The K-9 then entered the shelter and bit Szabla, who was asleep. Szabla slept in the shelter because the park was across the street from a temporary employment service that hires day laborers. Szabla was an innocent person and not related to the traffic accident.
Court's findings and rulings pertaining to the K-9 announcement: The court addressed the need for a canine warning announcement that would give a suspect the opportunity for peaceful surrender. The court concluded that a jury could properly find it unreasonable to use a police dog trained in the bite-and-hold method to track and bite a suspect, without first giving the suspect a warning and opportunity for peaceful surrender. The court further stated that at the time of this event (August 2000), case law specifying that not giving a warning to a suspect was unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment has not been clearly established.
Rogers v. City of Kennewick (9th Circuit)
Court's findings and rulings pertaining to the K-9 announcement: The court ruled that there was clearly established case law that failing to give a warning before releasing police dog to bite and hold is unreasonable.
There is however, on exception - a situation in which a K-9 announcement is not required - that the courts have ruled on in three separate cases. Each of these cases involved a suspect who was armed with a gun and posed a threat to the lives of the officers and the public. Those three cases were:
Estate of Rodgers v. Smith (4th Circuit)
Court's findings and rulings pertaining to the K-9 announcement: When the K-9 handler deployed the K-9, the handler could see that Rodgers was holding a handgun at his side. At the time of the K-9 deployment, the handler was no more than 10 feet away from Rodgers. The handler testified that he deployed the dog without a warning because," I was close and there was almost no cover between Rodgers and I. And I didn't want to draw any more attention to myself than I had to." Under these circumstances, the handler's judgment was reasonable and there was no Fourth Amendment violation in the manner in which the handler deployed the dog.
Thomson v. Salt Lake County (10th Circuit)
Officers learned they were very close to Thomson because the K-9 could be heard barking in the background while Thomson was speaking to an officer on his cell phone. The police dog was released, without warning, into a backyard where officers believed Thomson to be. Officers heard noises and the dog did not recall to the handler when commanded to do so. Officers entered the yard and heard Thomson yelling to get the dog off him and threatening to shoot. Officers saw Thomson was holding a rifle and he would not drop the gun and raise his hands when instructed. Thomson put the barrel of the gun in his mouth and then quickly pointed the gun at an officer. One officer shot and killed Thomson.
Court's findings and rulings pertaining to the K-9 announcement: Deputy's release of a properly trained police K-9, without warning, and failure to negotiate with an allegedly suicidal suspect did not recklessly create a need to use deadly force, in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The court ruled as such on the grounds that deputies were objectively reasonable in taking steps to locate an armed and agitated suspect running through a residential neighborhood, after deputies had received a report that the suspect had aimed a gun at his wife. A warning by police officers is not variably required, under the Fourth Amendment reasonableness standard, even before the use of deadly force in apprehending a suspect.
Crenshaw v. Lister (11th Circuit)
The handler ended up crawling through dense brush and heard Crenshaw state, "I am over here." Immediately after the handler heard this, the K-9 bit Crenshaw for three to five seconds while the K-9 handler crawled through the brush to where Crenshaw was hiding. Once the handler made it to Crenshaw, the suspect was ordered to show his hands and he did not immediately comply. The K-9 handler was not sure if Crenshaw was still armed. The K-9 handler grabbed Crenshaw's hands and the dog was not removed until both of Crenshaw's hands were accounted for and secured. Thus, Crenshaw was bitten numerous times.
Court's findings and rulings pertaining to the K-9 announcement: Crenshaw was suspected of armed robbery and was a fugitive from the police. The K-9 handler had every reason to believe Crenshaw was armed and dangerous. The K-9 handler was not required to risk his own life by revealing his position in an unknown wooded area at night to an armed fugitive who, up to that point, had shown anything but an intention of surrendering.
Elements of an Announcement
One of the agencies attending this course used the following announcements: "Attention in the area. (Name of City) Police Department K-9. I am requesting you make yourself known or I will send in my police K-9 to find you. If my police K-9 finds you, he is going to bite you. Make yourself known to me at this time." If the K-9 handler received no response he then gave a second K-9 announcement: "Attention in the area. (Name of City) Police Department K-9. I am requesting you make yourself known or I will send in my police K-9 to find you. If my police K-9 finds you, he is going to bite you. Make yourself known to me at this time. This is your last and final warning before I send in my police K-9."
Amazingly, the handler from that agency was able to make those announcements without having to read them from a card. Each announcement literally took about 30 seconds to recite. To make matters worse, that particular handler would deliver his announcement so quickly that the words ran together and the message was completely unintelligible. Of course this announcement was not the handler's personal choice, but it was set by department policy and he had to adhere to it.
There are three components to the announcement that officers must state. These components are:
1. Your authority (police, sheriff, etc.)
2. Request for a peaceful surrender
3. The consequences for not surrendering (dog bite)
My agency's K-9 announcement is, "Police K-9, come out now or I will send my dog. When my dog finds you he will bite you." Don't get me wrong here. I'm not saying my agency has the best K-9 announcement being used in this industry. What I am saying is that our announcement is short and to the point, while covering the three required components.
Ensuring Successful Delivery
If your agency has a long K-9 announcement that's tough to remember, do those with whom you work a factor and type your announcement on a small card. Give these cards to anyone who works in the field and who may assist you on a K-9 deployment. These cards can easily be laminated so officers can carry them in their shirt pockets. In the event you need someone else to make your announcement (opposite side of a large building, on the corners of an established perimeter, etc. ) these officers can remove the card from their shirt and state the announcement without having to worry if the required components were met and if they abided by your agency's policy.
Whatever your agency's K-9 announcement is, it must be said with clarity. Some handlers are so eager to send their dog, they rush through the announcement and it is completely unintelligible. You cannot expect someone to surrender to a bunch of garbled words they do not understand, and the courts will not expect this either.
In addition, you must be able to give the announcement not only in English, but in whatever language is used in the community in which you work. For example, if you work in a predominately Spanish-speaking community, you need to learn to give your announcement in Spanish.
If your announcement is heard by witnesses or neighbors, it's best if these people can recall what the announcement said and state they were able to understand the announcement from wherever they were when the announcement was given. If you discover there was a neighbor or witness who heard and understood the announcement, document this in your report.
Location, Location, Location
Obviously, this is never a good idea. Some handlers do not realize that what they do in training, they will generally do while on a call for service. This is very obvious when the human body is placed under stress; in such situations the human body will resort to its level of training. If you do not utilize contact or cover during training, guess what? You're not going to use it on your own when you're amped up on a call.
I often see handlers, and I have done it myself, bypass threat areas to get to what they think is the only breach point to make their announcements and their entry. An example would be a burglary with forced entry and the premises (residential or commercial) is surrounded by several types of cover or concealment. These can be bushes, cars, garbage dumpsters, etc. Many handlers will go directly to the point where the forced entry was made into the premises, bypassing other threat areas because they always train to make their announcement and send their dog at the point of entry.
Here is an example: Let's say you are the first to arrive on the scene of a commercial burglary and there are several large bushes near the front of the business. From the street, you can see the front glass door is shattered. Several other officers arrive and assist you. It’s safer for you to make an announcement from your position at your vehicle than it is for you to bypass these threats and make the announcement at the shattered glass door. Wouldn't it be safer for you to send your dog to clear the large bushes and threat areas, either off-leash or on a long line, and then down your dog and advance his position through the now-cleared area? The assisting officers canceler the other threat areas surrounding the building as they get into their perimeter positions. Once you're at the breach point, you can give your announcements again before sending your dog inside.
I have found that this approach is very advantageous. Not only are the exterior threats cleared, but the perimeter officers can also inform you of any other openings they discover, through which your dog may be able to exit while searching the interior of the building. The last thing handlers want is for our dog to exit the building while out of our view and injure one of our fellow officers who is there trying to help us.
Coordinate with Colleagues
If I am the only person making an announcement, I'm always certain to ask the farthest assessing officer if he or she heard my announcement. If they do not hear my announcement, I will either repeat my announcement in a louder voice, or I will have that officer make an announcement from their position.
When communicating with assisting officers, you should always use your portable radio. Nearly all agencies now record radio transmission, and such recordings can be used to your benefit in court. It's also a good idea to notify dispatch after you make your announcements. Again, this notification is recorded and can be used to your benefit in court, but it also lets all other officers on scene know that you are sending your dog.
Once you have decided to deploy your K-9 inside the building, you may need to make several additional announcements, depending on the size of the structure. This is beneficial in two ways. One, it will be heard by anyone inside the building who may not have heard your previous announcements, and two, it will re-stimulate your dog, who might be getting frustrated due to the length of the search.
Finally, try to keep your dog from barking when you give your announcement. It is not acceptable for your dog to bark during your announcement.
Barking Up the Wrong Tree
If your dog is barking, not only will you not be able to hear the suspect possibly trying to surrender but also, you and your dog will not hear any sounds coming from the area where the suspect may be located. You will not hear any slight movements from the suspect, who may be repositioning in his hide after hearing your announcement.
Another downfall to your dog barking during your announcement is your inability to hear any innocent and non-crime-related people who may be inside the search areas. What if someone that you were unaware of was trying to gain your attention and let you know of their presence?
Finally, when utilizing the dog as a locating tool, we need the dog to be as clear-headed as possible. If you allow your dog to bark excitedly during the announcement and then send him into the search area, he may begin searching the area using only his eyes. When he settles down, then he will begin to use his nose properly in an effort to locate the suspect. By having the dog calm from the outset of the search, he will be more likely to use his nose and locate a suspect who may be in very close proximity to your starting point.
Averting the Bark
Calmly give one announcement in a conversational tone of voice. If your dog does not bark, gently praise him without getting the dog overly excited. Allow the dog about 15 seconds to settle, and then give another announcement in the same tone. If your dog does not bark, the agitator should come out of the room and the dog should receive a reward bite and an ample amount of praise from you. Don't overdo the praise just yet, as this could cause your dog to become overly excited and make the behavior modification task difficult.
If your dog barks during an announcement, slowly raise your leash hand straight up, taking up the slack until your dog's front paws are about half an inch to an inch off the ground. Hold the dog in this position and give the command you wish to use to cease his parking (quiet, still, fey, etc.) Don't release this position until the dog has stopped barking. When the dog has stopped barking, slowly allow the slack back in the leash and start the command again. When you are able to say the comment in a normal tone without the dog barking, immediately have the agitator emerge and give the dog a reward bite with a lot of praise.
The second method for correcting this behavior is similar to the first method. With your dog in a "sit" at your side, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Have your outside foot about a half-step behind the inside foot. This is commonly referred to as an interview stance. Give your announcement in a normal, conversational tone of voice. If the dog barks, immediately give your command to be quiet while simultaneously doing an about-face with a stern leash correction. Walk about three paces then do another about-face with a second and third leash correction, simultaneously using whatever correction word you have chosen. Then return back to the starting position.
As always, don't overdo the leash corrections. We're not trying to rip the dog's head off; we just want to achieve that "pop." And remember, the dog needs to get an immediate reward bite when he displays the desired behavior.
As with all training sessions, end the training on a positive note. When your dog has displayed the desired behavior, reward him with a bite and then run him back to your car with a lot of praise.
Sgt. Jerry Hunter is a police K-9 handler and K-9 unit supervisor for the King City (CA) Police Department. He has been a dog handler for approximately 10 years and has handled an explosive detection K-9 and three dual-purpose narcotics/patrol dogs. Sgt. Hunter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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