A video that shows a San Diego police canine biting and shaking a man in handcuffs while he was face down in a street Sunday has gained attention on social media.
On Wednesday, police officials said the officers and the dog adhered to the department’s policy.
“While these videos can be graphic in nature to view, keep in mind our canines are extremely effective at deescalating situations and preventing elevated levels of force to take people into custody,” San Diego police Lt. Scott Wahl said.
The footage, posted by Facebook user Angel Nuñez, shows the dog latched on to the man’s arm for at least 30 seconds while one officer works to unlatch the animal’s jaw. Two other officers hold down the man’s legs.
The man can be heard repeatedly screaming and shouting, “Uncomfortable!”
Much of the incident wasn’t captured on video, San Diego police Lt. Scott Wahl said.
The canine officer was sent to A street near Sixth Avenue about 4 p.m. Sunday after a number of people called 911 about a man behaving erratically.
Wahl said witnesses told police the man was running in and out of traffic, jumping on cars, trying to pull stop signs from the ground and challenging passersby to fight.
He is also accused of punching a cab driver and trying to steal a motorcycle.
When the officer first approached, the man started moving toward him and threatening to fight. The officer repeatedly told the man to stop or the dog would be released.
A second video, also posted by Nuñez, appears to show the moments leading up to the dog bite. A shirtless man can be seen in the middle of a busy downtown street shouting and jerking his body toward an officer holding the canine close on a leash.
When the dog first clamps down, the man can be heard saying, “OK, OK, OK!”
He was eventually arrested on suspicion of charges that include robbery, battery and being under the influence of drugs.
A number of commenters questioned whether the canine and its handler had adhered to department policy. The lieutenant said they both did what they were trained to do, and the video clearly shows that.
Police dogs are taught to bite and hold. This is meant to ensure that the canine does not repeatedly bite a person, which could cause further damage, Wahl said.
The dogs also aren’t trained to release on a verbal command. Instead, officers are taught to apply pressure to release the canine’s jaw, to ensure they’re always in control. It’s also done to lessen the chances of a second bite.
That technique can take time, and it’s not done until the suspect is in handcuffs.
“Sometimes it takes a bit to get into the right position,” Wahl said. “It’s not a perfect, sterile environment where you push a button and it happens.”
The San Diego department also stressed that canine bites are relatively rare. During the first six months of 2017, the canine unit has responded to more than 8,200 calls for service. Bites only occurred during 18 of those.
“We want to deter people from engaging in violent and assaultive behaviors,” the lieutenant said. “Most of the time, merely a police dog’s presence helps.”
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