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Tuesday, November 28, 2023
Nov. 28, 2023

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Battle Ground Police Department suspends K-9 program

Chief cites staffing issues, reform laws, deployment statistics

By , Columbian staff writer

Citing a multitude of factors, the Battle Ground Police Department announced Friday it has suspended its police dog program. The suspension was effective March 1.

Among the reasons listed for the suspension were recent police reform laws, staffing issues within the department and deployment statistics for its police dog and handler.

“I want our officers to be safe, and to have the capacity to continue to devote significant time to 911 and 311 calls,” Police Chief Mike Fort said in a press release. “To that end, the reassignment of the K-9 officer to patrol will help the department better meet the needs of our community.”

Like many police agencies across the nation, Battle Ground has a shortage of patrol officers despite ongoing recruiting efforts. This has left many of its officers working additional shifts to provide coverage, the release said.

In reviewing how often and where its police dog was deployed, the city found approximately 80 percent of deployments during 2022 took place outside of Battle Ground. The press release said this was an important factor in making the decision to suspend the program.

“Battle Ground Police Department is fortunate to have strong regional partnerships that provide mutual aid law enforcement assistance. These partnerships are particularly important among smaller agencies that can share resources, including K-9 services, from time-to-time as needs dictate,” the release said.

Clark County Sheriff John Horch said his agency’s two police dogs could be deployed in Battle Ground, if needed.

“Absolutely. If we can go and they call for help and it fits within the confines of how we can deploy a canine … we’ll absolutely help our neighboring agencies in a heartbeat,” Horch said Friday.

The Vancouver Police Department also uses police dogs, however, Chief Jeff Mori could not be reached for comment Friday to address whether any policies have changed.

While Horch didn’t have specific numbers on how often their police dogs respond to other jurisdictions, he said the sheriff’s office is always willing to help out when and where it can.

“If the city of Vancouver needed a dog at a call and it fits the criteria … we would respond down there. No question,” Horch said. “It’s kind of a regional resource … just like the SWAT team’s gone to different jurisdictions, or the drone program.”

Horch said his department is not considering any changes to its K-9 program but he understands the constraints Battle Ground’s law enforcement agency is experiencing.

“We used to have four K-9 (officers) and we’re down to two. But we are not looking at getting rid of our K-9 program,” he said.

While police dogs are still an important resource, Horch said legislation passed a few years ago has limited when and how they can be used.

Fort also said police reform laws passed in 2021 have changed many aspects of policing, adding “legislators and voters made it clear that policing, particularly as it relates to the use of force, must be thoughtful and forward-thinking.” Fort said these goals are shared by the Battle Ground Police Department.

“To me, this means rethinking some tools of traditional policing, including the use of K-9s,” Fort said. “Although the K-9 is a valuable resource in some cases, I believe there are perhaps other methods such as technology and training that offer better paths forward for our department.”

Among the bills passed in 2021 was House Bill 1054, which banned the use of certain police tactics including chokeholds, tear gas and the use of police dogs for arresting or apprehending individuals. Dogs can still be used for search and rescue and for detecting narcotics, explosives and other substances.

“It’s still a very valuable program. We’re always reevaluating how things are. Every so often you have to look at certain resources,” Horch said. “Our K-9 officers don’t just do K-9 calls, they also take regular patrol calls, too, where they used to be strictly K-9 calls. But we had to switch that for staffing reasons.”

Battle Ground welcomed K-9 officer Charlie to its ranks in March 2021. According to Alisha Smith, communications manager for Battle Ground, the city is still considering Charlie’s options for the future.

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