On Police Shooting Dogs.
Caleb posted about police shooting dogs. I responded there, but decided to bring it here as a post, as well.
This is an emotional topic.
I'm going to speak here as a cop, but also as an academic who has put 20 years into Criminal Justice studies. I ask that people not take this personally, and please don't take my words as those of all police.
1. Animals are property.
This one statement is going to get a lot of people riled up that I say it, but it's a fact. They are owned. If someone takes your dog without your permission, and they are caught, that person is caught, they are charged with Theft, not Kidnapping. Animals including dogs are bought and sold at a brisk rate.
People know this to be a fact, but they cannot embrace it, when their dog is a family member to them. This is about emotion. Emotion, we know, is neither right nor wrong-- it simply is. But it can play merry hell with an equation built only on facts.
2. Emotions seem to trump logic.
If a cop serves a felony warrant, and uses a sledge hammer to break open a beautiful oaken door, people say, "Well, that's a shame about the door, but if the warrant was in order and the homeowner wasn't opening up, then it was time to open it however." If that same cop is met by a scared and aggressive dog that is doing what arguably is its job (protecting the household), but which is also endangering the cop with bloodshed, and the officer uses his weapon to stop what is the threat of what is, after all, property, from hurting him, the same logic often isn't used. It is short circuited by emotion.
3. Officers should not have to be bitten first.
I have been bitten on the job. I've gone to the ER and been treated and then bought new $70 uniform pants out of my own pocket, and never gotten recompensed for it. I've had dogs nip at me, and come charging into my taser and baton. I will die with clear scars left on my body that I have obtained from dogs attacking me while on the job. On a couple of occasions, I'll be honest with you: I should have shot the dog.
I have heard it said by people upset about a shooting that the dog hadn't bitten the officer yet. Given a large enough dog, a grown man can be permanently injured by a dog attack. Often it is shocking how small a dog can render lifelong injuries to a man. Without getting into breeds, we all know the breeds of dogs that are used the most for dog fighting, which are nowhere near the largest breeds. Sometimes a 40 lb dog is enough to permanently harm a man. Consider also the biological weapons in the dog's bite. Dogs left to roam and attack are often the same kind of dogs not getting their shots.
4. Officers should be trained better about dogs.
Jeff Cooper once said that a properly-trained police officer ought to be able to deal with a single dog attacking him. For the most part, I don't disagree, and that's frankly the main reason that I've never shot a dog that was attacking me while on the job. I have tazed them, and I have used my expandable baton, and I have used my steel-toed boots on them. A lot of the reason that I have not shot dogs when I would have been approved to do so by policy is because of #2, above: Emotions Trump Logic. I had a lieutenant get on to me about tazing my second dog attacking me in 2 months (both were pit bulls, and I promise you, both were in the immediate act of trying to get a mouthful of me. This wasn't a dog trotting up to check me out. One was airborne at me when the barbs hit.), because Taser cartridges are more expensive than pistol cartridges. He may have been speaking tongue in cheek, but I pointed out that I was able to resolve the problem without having our department featured in the news for "Another Cop Shoots Another Dog," and that's a win. (Also, I was in a vey residential area, and I don't like skipping pistol bullets around if I can help it.)
I will say, though, that modern expandable batons were mostly built more as pain compliance devices than as bone-breaking weapons, and they are surprisingly ineffective at rendering incapacitating injuries. To this end, the old second-growth hickory batons were FAR superior. The main feature of an expandable baton is that it is always on the belt of an officer. Strangely, most cops seem to forget about it. That's a two-pound chunk that they carry on their belt every workday for years, but they literally forget to use it. This is frankly a training issue.
5. There are times to shoot the dog.
When there is more than one dog coming after the officer, all bets are off. It is my professional opinion that packed-up dogs attacking a person need to be met with deadly force, unless we're talking about Chihuahuas or Pekinese or teacup varieties of canines. (In which case, proper footwork is key.)
During documented high-risk incidents, when the dog comes after an officer engaging in something that needs his undivided attention, shooting a dog may be the best option, keeping in mind #1. If the officer is swinging away with his baton to defend himself against a dog, he is not focusing on the other threats around him, be they a felon to arrest, or traffic. This last paragraph is not going to make me popular, because of #2.
6. We could bear rethinking the dog issue.
Because the dogs are such a hot topic, and so ubiquitous, we might re-think ways of dealing with them? How? I don't really know. Shin and forearm guards for warrant service where dogs are known to be come to mind, but I really question how effective they would be. I will tell you that tasers are of questionable use if you don't have a means of securing the animal while it's down. Catch poles might be a good piece of kit to bring. Dart guns are basically non-starters, because the amount of sedative that will put a dog down immediately is generally the amount of sedative that will kill the dog. Also, these things are time and resource-consuming. When you are going in to extract a felon, things need to move along rickety-tick.
For officers making a routine call upon a house for an administrative or non-emergency purpose, teaching them to survey the area before walking into the yard is worth doing. If a dog moves up aggressively, back off an call animal control.
We need to keep in mind Robert Peel's 2nd, 3rd, and 4th principles.
7. A lot of this problem could be fixed by talking to the dog owners.
I've already said that we need to do away with no-knock warrants except in hostage situations.
Knock on the door. Call them. Tell them that you need them to put their dog up. Sometimes that's what it takes. It kills the element of surprise, but not the dog. This isn't always possible, but it's possible sometimes:
"Hey, Mr. Smith? Bob Smith of 123 Any Street?"
"Yeah? Who's this?"
"This is the police. We're out front. And out back. We have a warrant for your arrest/ to search the house. We are in uniform, and in marked patrol units. We need you to put the dog away and come on out. If we have to come in, and the dog attacks us, we'll be forced to shoot the dog, and none of us ever wants that. Please comply immediately."
This happens. Not all the time. Sometimes it's not feasible. But it does happen. Maybe it could happen a little more.
I know of one incident in which someone whom I know personally was actually held hostage by a family member of hers, who had put their pit bulls in different bedrooms around the house to prevent SWAT from entering. He was drunk, and actually fired random shots during the stand-off. He finally permitted his hostage to leave. After the hostage-taker finally gave himself up, the former hostage convinced the officers --who were going in to clear the house-- to permit her to secure the dogs. The dogs were upset and would have attacked the strangers when they entered the bedrooms unaccompanied by her. My congratulations to the flexibility and professionalism of the North Richland Hills Police Department for handling that situation the way that they did.
8. Finally, I will say that Generalizations Fail.
When we say "There is NEVER a reason to" do thus and so, we are almost always stating an error of fact. When we say, "An officer should ALWAYS respond to X with Y" we will pretty much always be forgetting about an exception. But guidelines would be a good thing.
It would be really nice if people-- thoughtful people-- didn't have a basis to state that it looks like some cops basically just look like they wanted an excuse to fire their firearm. On the vast, vast majority of the time, it's not true. Let's be sure and make that point by finding ways to limit when we have to do so.