Better And Better

If you don't draw yours, I won't draw mine. A police officer, working in the small town that he lives in, focusing on family and shooting and coffee, and occasionally putting some people in jail.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

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 that person is caught, then 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."
"Okay, I'll put the dog in the kennel/bathroom/closet. Don't shoot. I'm coming out."
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.

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At Thursday, June 12, 2014 10:11:00 PM, Anonymous Robert Dean said...

This all sounds well and good until you read about some schmuck who hurts or kills a police dog. Then all of a sudden, the dog is magically transformed into a human and charges of murder and attempted murder of "police officer" are levied. As far as I'm concerned, it's just another example of law enforcement believing "We're special".

At Friday, June 13, 2014 12:14:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Officers who treat animals as material objects without good and sufficiebnt cause shouldn't be surprised by the likely response they will receive from other material objects being fired in their direction.

At Friday, June 13, 2014 6:32:00 AM, Blogger Gaffer said...

Mr. Dean has a point, weak, but still a point...but your comments are valid and should be read by as wide an audience as possible.

I appreciate you thoughts and look forward to further articles.

At Friday, June 13, 2014 11:31:00 AM, Blogger Kristophr said...

How much success have you had with pepperspray?

The two times in my life I have had to deal with attacking dogs as an adult, I was able to shut them down immediately with spray.

Two incidents are just anecdotes, which is why I ask.

At Friday, June 13, 2014 11:33:00 AM, Blogger Kristophr said...

Robert Dean:

That is the result of redefining a police dog as an officer in order to try to make dog searches into simple sight-sound-smell probable cause, instead of being sensory enhancements for an officer.

And yes, that is also wrong, IMO.

At Friday, June 13, 2014 1:24:00 PM, Blogger Shane said...

Good post. I wish more officers were more thoughtful about dogs when not facing an time-sensitive situation.

Although Robert Dean has a good point, if dogs are property, then injuring or killing a police dog should be equivalent to trashing a cop car, not killing an officer.

At Friday, June 13, 2014 11:45:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent comments, and I was struck by the same point as Robert Dean - both in NY and in Australia where I currently abide, dogs are property but police dogs are treated as sworn officers, and to touch one on duty risks being charged with assaulting an officer.

I'm amused and dismayed by the number of people who are TOTALLY against condemning dogs because their breed is used for fighting and there have been isolated incidents of bites, but TOTALLY in favor of condemning cops because some of them have been more violent than the situation might have demanded. As you say, there won't be a single solution that will serve every officer, and I can imagine that our local bobby, at 95lb soaking wet and all of 4'10" high, might not be so willing to wade in with boots and baton against that 40lb dog.

At Saturday, June 14, 2014 9:06:00 AM, Blogger Old NFO said...

Well done post Matt, and your use of logic and common sense are commendable; however many will, as usual, go directly to emotion...

At Sunday, June 15, 2014 9:47:00 AM, Blogger Don said...

The points about the way police dogs are venerated (and military working dogs the same, if you've ever been on Facebook for a day or two) are valid.

Worth noting, though, that Matt never said the cops or the public were immune to the emotional thinking he cited in #1. He just said that it's something that humans do and that it monkey-wrenches processes designed to run on facts. That implies that police officers and the general public are just as likely to get tripped up that way as any individual dog owner.

I do love my dogs . . . but that is a separate consideration from the law, which considers them my property (and my responsibility.) The two do intersect in places (nobody could charge me for cruelty to my garden vegetables, for instance, and for that I am grateful, because the crimes I have committed against them are ugly and diverse) but they aren't the same.

At Monday, June 16, 2014 6:01:00 AM, Blogger Matt G said...

"Although Robert Dean has a good point, if dogs are property, then injuring or killing a police dog should be equivalent to trashing a cop car, not killing an officer."

I actually don't disagree.
I have enjoyed the company of some very nice police dogs, but I don't consider them "Officers." I'm pretty convinced that real police officers don't poop in the yard.

At Monday, June 16, 2014 12:02:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good points.
It would be interesting to know how many of the incidents of dogs being shot occurred on no-knock warrants rather than on regular warrants. Dogs react to the much higher tension level of a surprise encounter.
At least, my dog (a working style Australian Shepherd) took a very dim view of the trooper who came around to investigate a 911 hang-up (a child unbeknownst to me playing about in the other room). Tense officer plus a surprised owner equaled a level of aggressive protectiveness that I never saw that dog display at any other time. Thankfully, by pure luck, the dog was in hand at the time.
Notably, the same dog did not react aggressively to the same trooper when he came asking for any information/witnesses to an incident. Entirely different tension levels.

At Saturday, June 28, 2014 4:19:00 PM, Anonymous Al Moonlight said...

In today's police work, apparently, "Shoot the dog" comes before "Double-check the address."

At Saturday, July 12, 2014 8:28:00 AM, Blogger Retired Spook said...

We've got two little dogs that combined don't weigh 25 lbs. Both have proven, on more than one occasion, that they will risk their lives to protect me. Least I can do is return the favor.

So if someone comes on my place, for any reason, and shoots at my dogs, I will shoot back.

There aren't fifty people in the world that are worth more to me than my dogs. None of those fifty are cops.

At Monday, August 11, 2014 7:26:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would go to jail for shooting a cop to protect my dog. Yes, it is an emotional reaction and I make no excuse for it

At Saturday, February 07, 2015 3:20:00 PM, Blogger Goju said...

As a long time dog lover,Matt...this article is beautiful. Cops very rarely come out of a dog shooting looking good.

For those saying they would shoot at police to protect their dogs: you are morons and Darwin's law will catch up with you. Hopefully before you hurt or endanger someone.

At Saturday, February 07, 2015 3:22:00 PM, Blogger Goju said...

As a long time dog lover,Matt...this article is beautiful. Cops very rarely come out of a dog shooting looking good.

For those saying they would shoot at police to protect their dogs: you are morons and Darwin's law will catch up with you. Hopefully before you hurt or endanger someone.

At Sunday, February 08, 2015 10:07:00 AM, Blogger V said...

The cop who shoots my dog should understand his life will be forfeit. If cops get to treat their dogs as "fellow officers" then my dog is part of my family. You don't get it both ways.

At Sunday, February 08, 2015 2:11:00 PM, Blogger Matt G said...

A statement made with emotion, but little thought, V.

I don't consider anyone who poops in the yard to be a full "officer." They are beloved and respected tools and companions.

If I'm shooting your dog, it's only because I feel that my life or another person's life is endangered by it. It would be a bad day. But are you sure that you want to deprive your family of yourself? How does that help?


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