IMPD announces major changes to K9 unit, lawyer for those unintentionally bitten urges further reform

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INDIANAPOLIS — IMPD just announced significant changes to its K9 unit. The IndyStar’s investigative unit recently found out IMPD’s K9’s have the highest rate of dog bites than any other police department in the top major cities.

IMPD has said they were already in the process of reforming the K9 unit prior to the Star’s article. During a city-county council committee meeting Wednesday night, the department laid out a series of changes to this team.

There are 20 dogs on IMPD’s K-9 unit. Two of them have aged out, and IMPD said they have not replaced them. The department is now requiring each handler to train during each shift, which means they train for 30 hours each month instead of 16.

Now, before an officer deploys a dog in an area, a loud message plays over the PA system from their vehicles. Deputy Chief Joshua Barker played the recording, which will air in English and Spanish, during Wednesday’s meeting for councilors and the public. Here is what it says:

“We are looking for a suspect and preparing to use a police dog. For your safety, please go inside your home or business, and stay inside until we have completed our search. To the person or persons who are hiding from the police, make your location known to us immediately. Put down all weapons, come out with your hands raised and follow directions. If you do not a police dog will be used to find you and you may be bitten.”

Each K9 handler and supervisors will wear a body camera, which will turn on during all dog deployments.

These changes are not nearly enough for the innocent bystanders bitten by an IMPD K9. Jon Little, a civil rights attorney with Saeed & Little LLP, represents two people who were on their own porches when a K9 bit and injured them.

One case involved a pregnant woman who went into preterm labor in 2015, the other a 70+ year old man in 2018. The woman, Mara Mancini, settled her case. The man, Gordon Mitchum, still has an open case related to the unintentional bite.

“That dog, who can’t tell an innocent person from a guilty person, obviously, is going to engage, which means bite, and tear and hurt and injure and maim the citizens of Indianapolis,” Little said. “Whether they’re suspects, or pregnant women, or elderly people.”

Little insists further reform is crucial for the K9 unit.

“If we win, our goal is to end the IMPD K9 program as a bite and hold program, we want a bark and hold program,” Little said.

Barker did note dog bites are on a downward trend.

He reported, in 2019, there were 70 K9 apprehensions involving a bite. Of those 70 people, 68 of them were running from police on felony charges and two people on misdemeanors. There were 433 apprehensions without a bite. The bite ratio in 2019 was 14%, which Barker said is below the Department of Justice’s recommended guideline of 20%.

In 2020, up to October, 42 apprehensions of people involved a K9 bite, 334 cases involved catching a person and there was no K9 bite reported. The bite ratio lowered to 11%.

In quarter 1 of 2021, they have deployed a K9 26 times. The K9 did not bite the fleeing person in 25 of those cases.

To this point in 2021, no officer or uninvolved citizen has been bitten.

We asked IMPD for an interview regarding the K9 unit, including how often in 2020 and 2019 an uninvolved person or police officer was bitten. IMPD declined an interview and directed us to Wednesday’s meeting.

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