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Handling K9 Bite Evidence

When it comes to your canine partner biting a suspect there are many things involved.  I will be discussing some of the DO’s and DON’Ts involved.  The biggest issues are medical care and photographing the evidence.  When the case goes to court, whether it is criminal or civil, these issues will be brought up.

From call to call, we don’t know what we are getting into, but sometimes we have a chance to plan ahead, so do so thoroughly.  One of the things to plan for is care for the suspect after they get bit.  Do you have a basic first aid kit, I hope so.  How about situations where you have a search or arrest warrant that is to be executed.  Did you think of calling for a BLS or ALS ambulance to stage at a nearby location for a very quick response?  That ambulance may or may not be needed, but better to have nearby than to be waiting.  It is your responsibility to provide medical assistance as soon as feasible, so why not have the ambulance seconds instead of minutes away.  Whether or not you have an ambulance staged, you should be providing basic first aid to control the bleeding.  What if the suspect isn’t bit, but an officer gets injured during the raid, that ambulance is already staged and ready to be there upon your call?  Obviously if this is a warrant, you don’t want the dispatch center to broadcast over the air for the ambulance to stage at such and such location at the request of the police.  Anyone in scanner land including your possible suspect could hear that and blow the whole thing.  It is better to call the ambulance on a recorded phone line, for evidence purposes, or have dispatch call on a recorded phone line.  I know at my department, we don’t have any recorded phone lines, but if I call the county dispatch center, my call will be recorded.  It is best to cover your hind end by having calls like this recorded, that can be played back in court months or years later.

How about when we get a call to track down a felony suspect that is on the run?  We don’t have much time if any to preplan.  We kick on the lights and siren and get to the area as soon as possible.  Did you think of requesting an ambulance to stage nearby?  If the chase is covering a large area, it may not be practical to stage an ambulance, but you could have one on stand-by at station ready to go.  As soon as the suspect is caught, protocol is to advise dispatch that the suspect is in-custody.  If the suspect was bit, then you should also be requesting an ambulance or to send in the staged/stand-by ambulance and advising dispatch that first aid is being administered.  Remember, ALL your radio communications are being recorded.  If you follow the above advice, those recording will help you in court, especially civil court. 

Processing a crime scene is like everything else in life, it changes over time.  Photographing a crime scene has changed drastically, and those photographs can make or break a case, including when your canine bites a suspect.  With advances in technology, I doubt any agency is still using 35mm film cameras.  For many reasons, we are now using digital cameras, to include cost and knowing whether the picture is any good or not.  If we take a bad picture, so be it, we take another one or more until we do get a good one, but don’t delete any pictures.  All pictures taken, even bad ones are considered evidence.  One of the big advantages of digital photography is all the details that are imprinted in the picture file properties, such as date and time taken, date and time modified, camera information and camera settings.  That being said, make sure that the camera is set for the correct date and time before you use it.  If you have to change the batteries, double check the date and time and make the adjustments if needed.  An attorney will rip your case apart over little things like incorrect date and time stamps.

Before I get into actually taking the photographic evidence, I want to discuss camera phones.  The best advice that I can give you is, DON’T use your camera phone or let anyone else on scene use their camera phone.  All pictures taken are evidence; including one’s taken on your personal camera phone.  IF you should have no other option than to use your camera phone, then there are several things you do need to do and one thing you shouldn’t.  After taking the pictures, then upon return to station you need to upload them to an agency computer.  After uploading, you then delete them from your phone immediately.  This is the protocol I was given for my state, which maybe different where you are.  I would advise that you contact your District Attorney’s office for protocols in your area.  The biggest DON’T involving your camera phone is sending the pictures via messaging, email or to social media sites.  DO NOT get yourself into a bind by doing that.

When it comes to taking photographic evidence, we do not want pictures full of blood.  There is a right time and a wrong time to take pictures.  Taking pictures as the medics are attempting to stop the bleeding, cleaning the bite wound, etc. is not the time to be taking pictures.  If you are going to take a picture of the open would, it is best that blood not being flowing, or show any bloody towels or gauze.  The only actual red spot you should see in the picture is the wound itself.  Also, watch out for anything in the picture frame that may have Betadine on it.  Although Betadine is not blood, it can appear to be in a picture.

When you go to take the pictures, start out with an overall view of the suspect.  That means one or more pictures that shows the suspect from head to toe, and shows the location of injuries, whether they be bite wounds or other injuries.  Remember, words don’t paint a picture as well as a photograph.  You want the picture(s) to show what the suspect was wearing, any and all injuries and any other identifying characteristics such as tattoos.  After the overall view picture(s), then proceed to take closer shots of the suspect’s injuries and identifying characteristics.  By having pictures of the injuries and where on the body they are, the suspect can’t make up lies about other fictitious injuries.

 If due to circumstances you’re unable to take pictures at the scene, don’t worry, you can still take them at the hospital.  If you have to take the pictures at the hospital, follow the same advice as above.  Make sure it is a clean area, no blood or Betadine anywhere in the picture.  If the suspect is to receive stitches and you are unable to take pictures before s/he is stitched up, still take all the above described pictures of the suspect, including the stitched up wound(s).

A couple of things to remember; when it comes to blood in pictures, the suspect’s attorney will play the sympathy card in court.  They will show the bloody pictures to the jury to try and get sympathy and make you out to be the bad guy.  One last thing, those pictures you took of the suspect will show the jury a true picture of the suspect, for who s/he really is, not the clean and dressed up in their newly bought or rented suit or dress with the fresh haircut.  The pictures show the tattoos, needle marks, dirty clothes, etc.  The only thing that a picture doesn’t capture is sound and odor.

Stay safe.