K9 Duty Deaths: The Need for Better Reporting
By Mark Bond, professor of criminal justice at American Military University
K9 partners play a critical role in law enforcement agencies and are beloved members of the community. However, despite their value, there remains no consistent or accurate tool to report K9 duty deaths. As those in academics know, it is imperative to be able to gather reliable, verifiable, and credible data to analyze K9 duty deaths. Such research can lead to the development of better K9 training programs, tactics, and general care for our beloved four-legged partners.
Missing information on reported K9 duty deaths includes:
- Years of service
- Basic K9 training
- Specialized training
- Length of in-service training time
- Duty assignment
- Purpose of K9
- Protective vest or gear worn
- Day of the week and time of incident
- Off or on lead at time of incident?
There is no identified agency who is taking the lead to improve reporting mechanisms and create a uniformed duty death report for K9’s. This oversight is an opportunity for the discipline and profession to work together to honor the faithful service of K9’s with accurate data about their duty deaths. By creating a reporting system that is verified and reliable, the data generated can be properly analyzed and reported to policy-makers so there is credible evidence to support training, tactics, and care for K9 partners.
The Officer Down Memorial Page (ODMP) has started adding K9 duty deaths to their roll to honor the fallen and has also noted the problem regarding accurate reporting. The information below is data taken from the work completed by the ODMP on K9 duty deaths.
ODMP 2004-2014 K9 Line of Duty Deaths: 101
- Animal related (killed by another animal): 2
- Assault: 2
- Automobile accident (departmental): 6
- Drowned: 2
- Duty related illness/injury: 5
- Exposure to toxins: 1
- Fall: 7
- Gunfire/firearms (all types): 34
- Heat exhaustion: 16
- Stabbed: 3
- Struck by vehicle: 14
- Training accident: 3
- Vehicular assault: 6
From what has been reported over the last decade, the leading cause of K9 duty deaths is caused by firearms (accidental and criminal). However, an alarming category is heat exhaustion—16 K9 partners died due to heat exhaustion. Even with incomplete data, the evidence indicates immediate action needed by K9 teams to reduce the number of deaths in this category. Working with local department veterinaries is a good start to learn how to keep a working K9 properly hydrated and cooled before, during, and after an incident.
The ODMP has made a good start with this reporting effort, but more must be done so the law enforcement community can get a better understanding of the gravity of the problem. Now is the time to create a reporting system that helps identify how we can take better care of our important four-legged partners of service.
About the Author: Mark Bond worked in law enforcement and has been a firearms trainer for more than 29 years. His law enforcement experience includes the military, local, state, and federal levels as a police officer and criminal investigator. Mark obtained a BS and MS in Criminal Justice, and M.Ed in Educational Leadership with Summa Cum Laude Honors. As a lifelong learner, he is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in education with a concentration in distance education. Mark is currently an assistant professor of criminal justice at American Military University &American Public University and is one of the faculty directors in the School of Public Service & Health. You can contact him at Mark.Bond@mycampus.apus.edu.