The Independent Police Conduct Authority has found that the use of a Police dog to apprehend a man following a pursuit was not justified.
On 29 May 2020, a member of the public approached an officer who was parked outside a school and reported she was concerned about a vehicle being driven very slowly and “swerving all over the road”.
The officer found the vehicle nearby and signalled the driver to stop because he suspected he was driving under the influence of alcohol. When the vehicle did not stop, the officer initiated a pursuit. The pursuit lasted for about 32 minutes and travelled approximately 18 to 20 kilometres, at very slow speeds. A Police dog handler also joined the pursuit. Officers did not have any concerns about the manner in which the vehicle was being driven during the pursuit.
The pursuit ended in a rural area on a gravel road when the road became obstructed preventing the vehicles from travelling any further. The road was surrounded by gorse and native bush.
The dog handler watched the driver get out of his vehicle and believed the driver was attempting to flee into the bush. The dog handler believed if he did not arrest the driver, Police would lose evidence of the suspected driving under the influence of alcohol. He was also concerned that the if the driver was allowed to enter the bush, he might get lost and need rescuing.
The dog handler assessed that his only available option to apprehend the driver and prevent him fleeing into the bush was to release his dog, which he did.
The driver was caught by the Police dog and his leg was bitten. He was given medical treatment at the scene before being taken to hospital by Police for treatment.
The Authority found the decision to signal the driver to stop was justified. Due to the interpretation of Police policy at the time, initiating and continuing the pursuit was also justified.
The Authority found the use of the Police dog to apprehend the fleeing driver was unjustified in the circumstances. The seriousness of the offending and suspected offending, and the risk posed by the driver if not immediately apprehended did not justify the degree of force used.
“The use of the Police dog was not justified or necessary in the circumstances. The offending the driver had been involved in and was suspected of having been involved in was not at a level that warranted a Police dog being deployed to bite him; the officer had other options” said Authority Chair, Judge Colin Doherty.