Belgian malinois police dog in action, left, with an officer. Photo by David Shankbone/NARA
In early November 2015, a Belgian Malinois police dog named Bear stopped a man he suspected of breaking into cars in a parking lot of a Washington, D.C., suburb. While Bear tried to bite the man and hold him down, the man managed to break loose and escape into the parking lot. Bear, however, continued to chase the man through the lot.
The police dispatcher who heard Bear’s calls for assistance sounded concerned about his handler, Sergeant Robert Martin. He asked, “Sgt Martin, is that a weapon?”
“No,” Martin replied, before adding that the suspect “has a knife,” according to the audio recordings of the calls, provided to the Center for Public Integrity by the Washington Metropolitan Police Department (WMPD) in response to a public-records request.
This is the first recorded instance of an American police dog being shot and killed by a suspect, or of a dog being killed while in the line of duty, the Center found. The dog was a 7-year-old Belgian Malinois police K-9 named Bear. Martin had been with the WMPD since 2006.
But this killing was not the first time a law-enforcement dog had been shot while in the line of duty. The same dog had been killed by a suspect in the same parking lot three years earlier. The second shooting occurred after a police K-9 officer had been shot and killed on March 4, 2012, by an armed man in the same parking lot.
The incidents have led to questions about the trning of police K-9s and the role they should play in the force.
“This is not the first or the last time I’m going to talk about this,” sd the police chief, Peter Newsham, who has served as the police department’s top law-enforcement officer since 2010.
The Center requested all public records related to K-9s, including the audio recordings from November 2015. This investigation, which began in December 2015, involved review of nearly 12,000 pages of records obtned through a Freedom of Information Act request.
In addition to the audio records, the Center interviewed more than 30 current and former police officers, police academy instructors and K-9 handlers.
The audio recording of the incident shows Bear barking frantically at the suspect, who then fled into the parking lot. Bear and his handler, Martin, then exchanged a series of calls, with Bear barking and Martin repeating, “I’m not going to hurt you.”
A 911 dispatcher called Martin back repeatedly, and when he spoke, his tone sounded increasingly desperate. Martin sd, “Yes, it’s still me and it’s still the suspect.”
“Bear,” the dispatcher sd, “you want to shoot him.”
“Yeah, I want to,” Martin sd, according to the audio.
A few minutes later, Martin’s voice came across a police radio in an adjacent police cruiser.
“All units, we’ve got a canine in pursuit,” he sd.
At one point, Martin sd, “I just want to confirm … is he [the suspect] a threat to us?”
A voice on the other end responded, “Yeah.”
Another voice came on the radio. “That’s the knife,” the voice sd.
Martin responded: “All right, I’ll take cover.”
The audio cuts out.
The man who was shot and killed by police on Nov. 6, 2015. Courtesy of the Washington Metropolitan Police Department
K-9 Unit Is Expanding
While police dogs have been on the force for more than a century, their trning, which includes extensive handling with the drug and explosives that they are expected to detect, is relatively new.
In the 1980s, the WMPD received its first dogs from a private company, which then began trning the police department’s K-9 unit, the department sd. By 1990, the department was receiving dogs from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and it later began to obtn dogs from other federal and state agencies. The number of dogs increased from seven to 10 in 1996. By 2004, the department had 12 K-9 units.
But the department’s first police K-9 unit was short-lived. The department retired its dogs in 1999 because of cost, lack of use and a rise in trning costs, according to the department’s 2012-13 annual report to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Since 2000, the department has spent $14 million on trning for police K-9s, the annual report sd. The department’s K-9 unit, including the police dog, cost taxpayers $24 million in fiscal year 2015, up from $18 million the previous year, according to the department.
As the K-9 unit has expanded, the department has become more selective in who receives the trning.
“Over the past two years we have implemented changes to increase the quality of our K-9 selection process,” the department sd in a statement. “These changes have led to an increase in the amount of time it takes for candidates