IMPD addresses concerns about K9 unit to city-county councilors

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INDIANAPOLIS – For more than two hours on Wednesday night, the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department spoke to city-county councilors about its K9 unit and addressed concerns about the number of bites from the department’s dogs.

It comes after our partners at the IndyStar published a yearlong investigation that found the department’s dogs bite more than any other big city.

In front of the Public Safety and Criminal Justice committee, IMPD Chief Randal Taylor admitted the number of dog bites is troubling.

“However, I do know that we had started crossing the bridge on changing our K9 Standard Operating Procedure and believe it has already shown benefits in lowering those numbers of bites,” said Chief Taylor.

IMPD’s K9 unit falls under Deputy Chief Josh Barker. In 2019, he explained they connected with Sergeant Michael Goosby, a training sergeant for the Los Angeles Police Department’s K9 unit. Deputy Chief Barker said Sergeant Goosby has been a member of that unit for 20 years.

“He has made several visits to Indianapolis over the course of 2019 and has continued to provide recommendations and feedback into best practices,” said Deputy Chief Barker.

Sergeant Goosby has been in Indianapolis since Monday to train with IMPD’s K9s and handlers. He will write some recommendations for the unit before he leaves the city.

“I am equally as concerned with the number of apprehensions that we are making as a police department,” said Deputy Chief Barker. “I also want to try to impress upon you all that we are very open to making the necessary adjustments to being a better police department as we respond to the expectations of our community.”

Deputy Chief Barker also acknowledged there are gaps in their reporting procedures.

“You can glean the race, gender, and age of the suspects we are biting,” he said. “What I don’t have right now is that information in real-time or a dashboard that lets me know what those numbers are.”

The IndyStar dug through the numbers and found more than half of the 243 people bitten over the last three years are Black. That population makes up less than 30 percent of the city.

“I am disappointed the leadership of IMPD was not asking these questions and having a dashboard, a metrics if you will, tracking this,” said Reverend David Greene Sr., president of The Concerned Clergy of Indianapolis.

Reverend Greene has another concern about the K9 unit outside of the demographics of the dog bites.

“I understand what a K9 unit does, but I am questioning why we have one of this size, this magnitude,” he said.

Another piece of data the K9 unit looks at is its bite ratio. During the committee meeting on Wednesday, Deputy Chief Barker explained the Department of Justice recommends the bite ratio should be no higher than 20 percent. According to Barker, IMPD was below that number in 2019 and so far in 2020.

In 2019, IMPD data shows 70 people were bit by a K9 while 433 people were apprehended without getting bit. That means the bite ratio for 2019 was 14 percent.

32 people have been bit by an IMPD K9 so far in 2020. 256 people have been apprehended without getting bit by a dog. That leaves the bite ratio at 11 percent.

Deputy Chief Barker emphasized the partnership with Los Angeles is just one of the ways the department is trying to fix the issues.

Earlier this month, IMPD announced changes to the department’s K9 unit that will tighten the criteria for K9 deployments. The new Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) will change the unit’s deployment to a strategy more similar to SWAT callouts. For a K9 team to be deployed:

  • The suspect must be wanted for a felony, or, wanted for a misdemeanor but is reasonably believed to be armed with a deadly weapon
  • An effective perimeter must be established around the area
  • Incident command must be established by a supervisor

Under the new SOP, K9 search teams will consist of three handlers and a K9 supervisor. These officers would now be equipped with a variety of less-lethal solutions to provide more options for apprehensions of suspects with minimal force.

This announcement came around the same time the IndyStar published its investigation on the K9 unit. IMPD said the new SOP was drafted following months of reviews of national best practices and consultations with subject matter experts.

“The timing is suspect. It makes it look like this article came out and IMPD is scrambling to make these changes to the unit,” said Deputy Chief Barker. “I think anybody that has been around our department long enough recognizes our agency historically is not able to move very quickly on anything.”

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