Battle Ground Police Department’s K-9 Charlie won’t be out on assignment after Police Chief Mike Fort announced the suspension of the department’s K-9 program earlier this month.
On March 3, the city announced it suspended the program two days beforehand. Officer Clint Fraser operated alongside K-9 Charlie since 2021.
A number of factors played into the decision to suspend the program, a news release from the city stated. Chief issues included staffing needs and how the unit was being deployed.
In an interview with The Reflector, Fort said early considerations to implement a K-9 program began in 2021 as police reform laws passed that year. With the exception of tracking deployments, the use of K-9s fit under use of force, which saw changes through those laws.
“The police reform laws do require us to take as much time as possible, to de-escalate as much as possible, to exhaust everything we can before we use force,” Fort said. “It doesn’t mean that there’s not an applicable use for the K-9 in a force situation.”
Those changes didn’t immediately call into question the department’s K-9 unit, the chief said.
“It wasn’t a consideration to suspend the program that far back, but it did start making us think about all of our abilities to use force in general,” Fort said.
Additional training or use of technology may better fill the needs a K-9 unit could fulfill under the new laws, Fort stated in the release.
The department looks at its annual statistics at the end of the year, Fort said, which includes K-9 deployments. At the beginning of this year was when the chief said officials began to seriously consider how the department’s resources were used.
Last year, BGPD’s K-9 unit was deployed 39 times, with only seven of those deployments happening within city limits, according to information provided by Battle Ground Communications Manager Alisha Smith. Thirteen of those deployments were for suspect containment and arrests, while 11 featured searches of buildings. Other deployments included narcotics searches and tracking, among others.
Fort said the majority of K-9 deployments outside of the city were in Clark County because of the proximity of the department to other jurisdictions. He said Fraser and Charlie also were deployed in Cowlitz and Skamania counties a few times.
Fort said interagency partnerships will ensure the loss of a local K-9 unit won’t lead to a lack of the resource, if it’s needed.
“We’re all going to remain good partners, and if we need a specific K-9 use in the city of Battle Ground, Clark County, they’re all in. Vancouver PD’s all in,” Fort said.
With the program suspension, Fraser will be reassigned to patrol duties with the department. The release stated staffing for patrols has been an issue even with ongoing recruitment efforts. Current officers often work additional shifts to cover the assigned patrols.
This year, BGPD plans to hire three sworn officers and a replacement lieutenant for retiring Lt. Kim Armstrong. Fort said those hires will “absolutely” help with the department’s patrol staffing.
He said getting the quality of officers the department needs takes time. For entry-level hires, the process could take close to a year, while lateral hires still take at least three months.
“We are always looking for the best ways we can to serve the citizens of Battle Ground,” Fort said. “That means being flexible, that means adapting, that means change sometimes.”
Though Fraser has been reassigned, where K-9 Charlie will end up remains unknown, Fort said.
“We do want to do, as best that we can, what’s best for the dog to some degree, and what’s best for the officer, too,” Fort said.
With the suspension of BGPD’s K-9, the Clark County Sheriff’s Office is the only jurisdiction in North Clark County with a similar program. The sheriff’s office has two K-9s currently, which are primarily used for locating suspects, sheriff’s chief criminal deputy Brian Kessel stated in an email.
The sheriff’s office’s K-9s are used almost exclusively for suspects who commit felony-level assaults, rapes or assaults with weapons, Kessel said. Other deployments include domestic violence crimes and felony-level property crimes.
Kessel anticipates a slight increase in deployments after Battle Ground’s program was suspended. He said the sheriff’s office is committed to continuing its program.
“Our handlers have been extremely successful in using their dogs as a de-escalation tool,” Kessel said.
More than 90% of K-9 deployments result in the suspect surrendering before any use of force, he said.
“They are a tremendous tool for us to maximize the needed time and distance for de-escalation,” Kessel said.