The majority of Law Enforcement agencies across the United States utilize K9 Units. K9 Units are able to provide skills that human officers may not be able to perform and often can perform specific duties more efficiently than a human officer. Roles of a K9 may include but are not limited to detection of illegal substances, chemicals, explosives, evidence and dead bodies; pursuit and apprehension of fugitives; tracking; and much more.
Integrating a K9 Unit into your Law Enforcement agency may increase your Law Enforcement liability exposures so careful consideration should be given to implementation procedures. It is vital that both the dogs and the handlers are provided with adequate training for them to effectively and safely perform their duties. Officers not acting directly as handlers should also receive training, as interaction with the dogs and assistance is probable. Just like any training, your handlers and K9 dogs need constant refreshers and reinforcement to ensure the unit is operating at maximum performance levels.
In addition to proper training, you’ll want to carefully review your general liability insurance policy to determine if coverage is provided for K9 Units. Although there have been few lawsuits filed and won against properly trained K9 teams, many states have passed laws placing liability on everyone involved with the trained police work dog. If the dog is “owned” by the law enforcement agency – and not an individual – ensure your insurance policy covers the dog 24 hours a day for Law Enforcement activities. Always work with your city or county attorney to ensure you implement your K9 Unit within your local statues and regulations.
Opting to implement a K9 Unit brings about many questions including; who is liable for incidents involving the dog; insurance for the dog/handler; how long are K9 work days; what do the K9s do off duty; and, when is a K9 ready for retirement?
Who is liable for incidents involving the dog?
In most instances, the “owner” of the dog (the Law Enforcement agency) is responsible for the liability. The majority of lawsuits arise from dog bites. Regardless if the bite was an accident, the “owner” is responsible. Factors on the type of liability are determined by what the dog was doing. If the dog was on duty and engaged as a tool of the law then it will fall under Law Enforcement liability coverage. If the dog was simply in public then it will likely fall under general liability coverage.
The best way to lessen your risk is to ensure your K9 Unit and their handlers are professionally trained and certified by a national organization.
Does the dog/handler need insurance?
Liability insurance for K9 Units is an absolute must. Carefully review your policy to determine if you have appropriate coverage; if not, you may be able to add an endorsement or purchase coverage specific to the K9 Unit. Owning and operating a K9 Unit is expensive so consider purchasing a separate policy for the dog in case of injury, death or illness.
How long are K9 work days?
K9s are only on duty when their handler is on duty. They need rest just like a human officer. However, it is common for K9s to come into the agency on off days or before/after their shift begins.
What do the K9s do off duty?
K9s live with their handlers off duty. Although they are not allowed to be unsupervised such as in the back yard, they do enjoy walks or runs with their handler. Handlers try to allow their dog to get as much rest in their kennel as possible as they need to reenergize for their next shift unlike a non-working dog.
When is a K9 ready for retirement?
K9s can work anywhere from 5 to 7 years. This time is variable depending on the health of the dog and at what age the dog started working.
If you are a policy holder with OneBeacon Insurance, consider taking the 30-minute K9 Operations course offered through LocalGovU.
Remember, K9 Units are powerful additions to any agency but must be managed just like any other unit. If you have further questions on how your agency can better manage risks regarding a K9 unit: