An outside report evaluating the Wilmington Police Department's K-9 Unit has been completed.
The 21-page report was submitted by Dr. David Ferland, an outside K-9 expert contracted by the City of Wilmington to review the WPD's K-9 Unit.
The report outlines strengths and weaknesses within the unit and makes a series of recommendations. According to Linda Rawley with the WPD, staff has already begun to implement the recommendations made by Dr. Ferland.
Chief Ralph Evangelous of the WPD said he agrees with all of the recommendations and they plan to put every single one of them into place.
"While I felt our K-9 Unit was operating according to policy and industry standards, it was critical to ensure that those assumptions were correct. We had to restore confidence not only to the public, but the Department and the K-9 Unit itself," said Chief Evangelous. "Our community, police department and the K-9 Unit deserve the best practices we can implement."
The unit came under fire last October during a police chase. Police say Johnnie Williams drove through a DWI checkpoint, leading several officers on a chase that ended at 23rd and Castle Hayne Road.
Dash cam video showed officer Stafford Brister lifting his police dog, K-9 Kaas, into the driver's side window of Williams' vehicle while his hands were up.
A grand jury decided the incident should not result in criminal charges against Brister. He since returned to active duty as a patrol officer and not to the K-9 Unit.
One of the recommendations dealt with how to handle K-9 Kaas, the K-9 involved in that incident. The report said that K-9 Kaas is "suitable" for police work. However, because the WPD currently does not have a suitable experienced handler for the dog, the report suggests giving K-9 Kaas to another Department.
It said K-9 Kaas is approaching the end of his career and should not go to a new untrained handler. Without K-9 Kaas, the WPD K9 unit would have four full time teams, which the report says is "in line with industry deployment standards."
The Chief said they plan to announce where K-9 Kaas will go in about two weeks.
The report said "Generally, the K-9 Unit is made up of qualified handlers with various leveled trained dogs; operating in a supervise manner; using industry standard practices/policy; and with good equipment. These recommendations serve as an opportunity to make future improvements."
- Stop training the K-9s near the wastewater treatment plant. According to the report, the grounds are ‘unsafe' and ‘uncomfortable' for the dogs. The Chief explained Friday, that the dogs haven't trained at that site in at least two years, and instead train at the New Hanover County Sheriff's Office.
- Moving away from "self-training" and towards "structured in-service training environment." The report said training should be supervised by a credentialed head trainer. Currently, the WPD does not have a credentialed head trainer. It went on to say until the Department has one, they should bring in a neighboring credentialed trainer. The Chief said they are working on moving one of their handlers into that position.
- Have K-9 handlers with less than five years of experience go to a "structured and established" K-9 Academy. The report said that, "The handlers do not regularly attend in-service classroom training regarding K-9 legal updates, K-9 unit management best practices or new K-9 related training techniques. In short, the handlers train each other and recommend to each other future actions when necessary."
The Chief said all of the dogs are certified and train for 16 hours a month, he said one of the reasons not all of the recommended classroom training occurred boiled down to money. "We ran out of training money towards the end of the year," said the Chief. "We didn't have money in place to be able to get them to their respected training classes. That's been since rectified, and they will now be sent to their specific training that is recommended."
- The K-9 Unit Supervisor should attended K-9 legal update trainings every two years and handlers should go every year. According to the report, the last time a handler went to a K-9 legal update training was 2010 and the K-9 Unit Supervisor has never been to a K-9 Legal update training. The Chief said that he agrees and there should be specific legal update training for the K-9 Unit. He did point out that currently the entire department undergoes an annual legal update training for all areas, and any changes in the K-9 unit are addressed then. He said in the future they will have their own training.
- K-9s should be trained 16 hours a month for general patrol dog use and 8 hours a month for their cross-trained specialty. Right now, the K-9s are trained 16 hours a month. The report suggests that if there is a general patrol dog who is also trained for narcotic detection it would need a total of 24 hours a month of training, by a credential head trainer.
- K-9s traveling in a helicopter should be kenneled in a portable kennel.
- Create a policy for the K-9 Explosive Dog use because currently there is no written policy. It also said the team needs an "appropriate transport magazine to bring training aids to remote training sites."
- Use other vendors in the bidding process when purchasing new dogs. The report said currently all dogs are purchased from a professional vendor in Florida. The report suggested that in some cases existing city policies would allow the WPD to buy a more expensive dog if they had a specific reason for wanting that dog.
The Chief said they are currently working on putting all recommendations into place. Right now he said they are insuring all recommended training happens as soon as possible. "We are working with a trainer to come up and run some 10 week training class," he explained. "We'll have a head trainer in place soon after that."
The report also analyzed the amount of times WPD K-9s use force and found that there was a 1.7% K-9 bite ratio in 2013. Meaning, out of 740 calls for service, there were 13 K-9 use of force incidents. The report said, generally courts find the ratio is inappropriate when it reaches 40% or 50%, and have opined in the past that ratios should stay under 20%.
Read the report here: http://bit.ly/SIddOY
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