Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department is in the process of updating guidelines for its K-9 unit.
If the policy change is approved, police dogs would only be justified for use when a suspect is wanted for a misdemeanor and is “reasonably believed” to be armed with a deadly weapon, according to an announcement sent out by the department Oct. 7. Police dogs would continue to be justified in all felony cases.
IMPD Deputy Chief Josh Barker, who oversees the K-9 unit, said one of the main goals of the policy change is to reduce the number of times police dogs bite people.
IndyStar — along with the Invisible Institute, The Marshall Project and AL.com — recently began a series of investigative stories into K-9 units around the country. In Indianapolis, according to an Oct. 7 IndyStar article, police dogs bite 28.3 people per 100,000 residents. That’s easily the most among police departments that were reviewed.
Barker said it was “terribly unfortunate” timing for IndyStar because he started meeting with the lieutenant of the K-9 unit in November 2018 and spent most of 2019 crafting policies based on national best practices.
“Rather than letting a story incite some sort of emotional response from the community … we thought it was reasonable to let the public know, ‘Hey, I get what you’re gonna read here, but there’s another side to this,’” he said.
IndyStar’s investigation also found 65% of those bitten between 2017 and 2019 were unarmed and didn’t act violently and that more than half of those who were bitten were Black.
Barker defended the department’s current K-9 guidelines as “legal and ethical” and said these changes signal a willingness to listen to the community when it comes to police reform.
IMPD Chief Randal Taylor basically said the same thing in a statement.
“Amidst national and local conversations around policing, IMPD is listening to calls from our community and looking inward – making changes that are responsive to our neighbors’ requests and improve public safety,” he said.
Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.