Study objective: To quantify the number of individuals bitten, the number of bites per patient, and the types of injuries and complications caused by law enforcement K-9 dog bites treated in the Jail Ward Emergency Department of the Los Angeles County-University of Southern California Medical Center. These variables were compared before and after a change in K-9 police policy from the "bite-and-hold" to the "find-and-bark" technique or stricter controls were instituted over the K-9 teams.
Methods: A retrospective chart review of all patients in police custody with K-9 dog bites who presented to the Jail Ward ED between January 1, 1988, and December 31, 1995, was conducted. Demographic data of patients with K-9 dog bites, the number and location of bites, complications, procedures performed, and management of bites were recorded and compared between the periods 1988-1991 (before the policy changes) and 1992-1995 (after the changes).
Results: Between 1988 and 1995 790 in-custody patients were treated for K-9 dog bites in the Jail Ward ED; 705 charts were available for review. Nearly all the patients (98.6%) were male, with a mean age of 25; 85.0% were Hispanic or black. More than half (57.2%) sustained three or more bites, mainly to the extremities. Complications ensued in 19.3%: vascular in 7.0%, infection in 5.0%, fracture or cortical violation in 4.0%, nerve injury in 1.9%, and tendon injury in 1.1%. Half (49.9%) were hospitalized, with a median stay of 3 days. After the change in K-9 policy, the number of patients with K-9 dogs bites presenting to the Jail Ward ED decreased from 639 (1988-1991) to 66 (1992-1995). The proportion of patients who sustained three or more bites decreased from 58.4% to 45.5%. The rate of vascular complications decreased from 7.5% to 1.6%, the rate of fractures decreased from 2.4% to 0, and the rate of cortical violations increased from 1.4% to 6.3%. The proportion of patients hospitalized decreased from 52.0% to 33.8%.
Conclusion: K-9 dog bites are associated with significant injuries and complications. In this study, changes in law enforcement K-9 policy contributed to a significant decrease in the overall number of individuals bitten, the number of injuries and complications, and the proportion of patients hospitalized.