Police Shoot Dogs, Who Is Policing the Police?

by Mary Haight on December 29, 2012

Police Shoot Dogs, He Shot The Puppy and similar statements are headlining news reports across the country — an uptick in inappropriate police response to non-threatening dogs, or are more reporters paying attention to this story? Are these incidents indicative of dangerous police behavior trends that have been begging attention? This has yet to be determined and there is no way to know right now, but anecdotal evidence is not only heartbreaking, it’s scary.

Chicago Police Shoot Dogs

In Chicago on December 1st, a 7-month-old miniature Bull Terrier puppy followed his person, Al Phillips, out of their backyard when Al went to check on a policeman he was told was writing a parking ticket in front of his house. The dog was sniffing a tree and wagging his tail a good car’s-length away from the policeman according to witness consensus, reported by Steve Dale and ABC channel 7 news. Al, who is 75, did not hear any warning from the officer – some witnesses said the officer stated “the dog is loose.” Then he shot at the puppy – twice.

Police back-up arrived, the neighbors had come running out of their houses to be met with the site of the dog running down the block, bleeding badly. No police officers offered help. The dog was rushed to the emergency room and was saved. Meanwhile, the officer who shot at the dog was reported to have calmly returned to filling out the boxes on his ticket. This is not the end of the completely unacceptable reaction to a puppy who was paying no attention to him.

Two days after the incident, a sergeant and a lieutenant showed up at the Phillips door. No, not to apologize. To intimidate  him perhaps, since he talked to the press about the “good man” who shot his puppy. When Al and his wife Barbara were not willing to promise no more press, they were issued another ticket for having the dog off-leash.

Steve Dale reported that at first the Chicago police department denied ever being there. Fortunately for the family (and the rest of us), there was a news crew there who got it on tape. Is *anyone* training these people as to who they serve and protect? Apparently not, comes the answer from no less than the Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy: “…we don’t have to wait to get bit by a dog, we don’t have to wait to get shot at before we take steps to protect ourselves…” Where have I heard that outrageous idea before? Shoot first, just in case?

Well citizens of Chicago, you have been warned. The police can do as they like, because according to their Superintendent the *new* mandate is to protect themselves at your expense. And never mind the apparently outdated directive not to shoot into a crowd, because that is precisely what that officer did at Al Phillips home.

I know not all police are on board with a shoot first policy, and much of this comes down to familiarity with dogs, knowing how to read their body language, and yes, respecting citizens enough to allow them to put their dogs away. At the same time,  “cover” should not be given to aberrant behavior from their ranks. The officer who kept writing the ticket needs professional help — I am not alone in my opinion.

Just the other day I heard and then read another report about an incident in a suburb of Chicago, Hazelcrest, where a non-threatening dog was killed by an officer in pursuit of an escaped convict. But this Wild West behavior is not unique to Chicago.

Excessive Force Reports Against Non-Aggressive Dogs

Here are a few of the recent reports of police shooting dogs from a handful of States.

There is no National database of dogs shot by police, and therefore we don’t know trends from State to State. We have cameras on thousands of street corners, it’s the 21st century, and this kind of data is tailored for computing. Surely a Foundation could fund an appropriate group to design, implement, and maintain such a program, while we push for mandated nationwide police training programs. We have, in fact, a good example of dog policy change that maybe a useful model to implement everywhere.

Austin, Texas Law Enforcement Policy Changes, Protecting Dogs from Excessive Force

John Woestendieck of ohmidog! reported the dog policy change made in Austin, Texas, following a dog shooting incident. The police shot a non-aggressive dog in April 2012 when entering the wrong house on a domestic dispute call. Officials responded in July with important policy changes, among them, training for cadets and online training before shifts for current officers. That and other changes like increased scrutiny of deadly force and review of such actions by the entire chain of command were the right actions to take, and it’s only the beginning for this dog-friendly town. The community backlash started the police department on a search for benchmarks in this area from cities around the country. That’s the type of response we all hope for.

I wonder how long it will take for something useful to be done nationally to stop the use of excessive force against dogs. Do you know if changes have been made in your town?


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