With the number of frequent shootings by police against non-aggressive family dogs, it’s about time we see something being done within the police community. Online magazine Law Enforcement Today has recently published an article warning officers not to shoot loved family dogs.
James P. Gaffney, author of the article, is an LET risk management/police administration contributor to the publication, and served with a metro-New York police department for more than 25 years as a patrol officer, sergeant, lieutenant and executive officer. He brings to light the popular opinion that dogs are not just pets, but “valued family members,” and that the preferred term is now “canine companion.”
Police are supposed to use objective reasonableness, i.e. common sense, when they are on the job. Approaching an unknown dog, or entering a dog’s territory, can incite an attack. Then police officers shoot, and cry self-defense. Well, if they thought a situation through using common sense and compassion, their deadly actions might not have been necessary. A siren or a loudspeaker could be used to alert an owner to their presence and to suggest their dog be safely secured instead of just barging onto a property and killing a dog for defending its territory and family from an intruder.
Dogs are excellent at sensing danger, and if they come across people they perceive as a threat, they might immediately become defensive and attack. As trained on the job, police can come across as menacing, something a nervous dog can certainly sense, and may act on.
Officers are trained to take whatever measures are necessary to protect themselves. Of course, officers have the expectation of self-protection from dogs that are attacking. But officers should not be employing a “shoot first, think later” mentality in cases where they enter a property clearly marked “Beware of Dog(s),” when they come across friendly runaways or when dogs are merely running toward them but not attacking. And how many times now have we heard stories of police shooting dogs on the wrong property? Don’t they have GPS?
It is natural for a dog to run up to a person they do not know, but it is not fair to assume they are running to attack. There is other clear body language that officers should be able to recognize, just as they are trained to recognize body language in humans. Should it become necessary to use protective measures against a dog, pepper spray could disable, and a baton could stun. But many officers just whip out their guns and shoot, not giving a moment’s thought to the fact that they are robbing a family of a beloved member just because they got scared and couldn’t hold themselves together. And yeah, so their training requires them to fire multiple shots when shooting. Are they so brainwashed that they are only running on instinct and autopilot (isn’t that reassuring?), and can’t use their brains to think to fire a single shot towards a leg, aiming only to injure but not kill? Or what about firing a shot into the sky, which might be loud enough to frighten the dog off? Why do they not retreat, letting a dog know they are not in danger? (This seems simple enough, but clearly is challenging concept.) And why is there such blatant disregard for anything else that might be injured? Many bullets are through-and-through, or ricochet, leaving the possibility that others can be killed in their reckless gun shows of cowardice.
If “regular” citizens can receive up to a 20-year prison sentence for killing a police dog (many of which have viciously attacked people, unable to distinguish between ordinary citizens and “perps”), then why is there such a double standard for police officers? Why are they above the law and the people they are meant to protect and serve? It seems that more and more these days, we need protection from them.
Well, police now can be held accountable in the case of wrongful death of a dog. It is illegal for officers to seize a dog by deadly physical force unless the actions taken are deemed objectively reasonable pursuant to the Fourth Amendment. Law enforcement officers know about objective reasonableness when using force against humans (though not all of them apply it), it is new for courts to recognize that this can apply to dogs killed in the line of duty.
When courts sets precedents in their rulings, it can take a long time for police law to catch up. At a conference attended by Gaffney last month, he learned from Chicago attorney Laura Scarry that shooting a family dog could be considered a violation of the Fourth Amendment. This amendment grants US citizens the right to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, protected from unreasonable arrests and seizures. Federal courts are now recognizing a dog as an “effect.”
This precedent is the result of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in the case of Fuller v Vines, 36 F.3d 65,68 (9th Cir. 1994), where it was ruled in favor of the defendant and enabled protection of dogs against wrongful death. The Bill of Rights has flexibility that allows for changes to be made as societal expectations change, and many in society want their dogs to be protected not only by the law, but from it.
Police dogs are considered valued members of the force, and “ordinary” dogs are considered valued members of families. It is time they are recognized as such and treated accordingly; with caution and respect, as police would expect anyone who approaches their dogs.