The Independent Police Conduct Authority has found that a Police dog handler’s decision to command his dog to restrain two young people while arresting them for attempting to steal a car was a justified, necessary and proportionate response in the circumstances and the arrests were legally justified.
In the early hours of 14 February 2021, a Police dog handler arrested three young people after he found them attempting to steal a car in New Plymouth. The arrests took place in the context of a large increase in the volume of vehicle thefts in and around the area, with young people routinely collectively stealing multiple cars at night then driving around together before abandoning the cars.
The dog handler encountered the young people in a car with a smashed window, less than 100 metres from where another reported stolen car had been abandoned. One young person was arrested at the car, while two fled. The dog handler released his dog to assist him in arresting the first of those young people. He then used his dog to track the second fleeing person into a bush area. The officer said he was 100 percent sure the person in the bushes was the fleeing young person and released his dog. That young person required hospital treatment for the dog bite.
Given the darkness and vegetation, it is likely that the dog did not positively sight the young person before it was released, in breach of Police policy, but given that no one else was in the vicinity who could have been bitten by the dog the officer’s actions were justified in the circumstances.
Authority Chair, Judge Colin Doherty said: “We have said in recent cases that the seriousness of the offence of unlawfully taking a motor vehicle is towards the lower end of the scale. This affects the assessment of whether the level of force Police use to effect arrest is reasonable and proportionate.
What distinguishes this case is that the young people appeared to be engaging in a mode of offending that had seen a significant recent increase in the New Plymouth area. This appears to have been a rare occurrence where Police had the opportunity to catch young people in the process of committing an offence of this class, and for this reason we found that the officer’s release of his dog on two offenders was justified.”