Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Officer, Please Don't Shoot My Dog!

Even people who own and love dogs often can't tell the difference between play and aggression. Many people who don't own dogs are scared of them, especially big ones--and their fear makes them even less able to read a dog's intentions.
Lobbying the Colorado Legislature after several incidents this year.
But they don't usually carry guns.

Most police officers don't know dogs any better than the rest of us. What's more, every time they go out on a call, their lives are potentially under threat. Often, they have only a split second in which to decide what to do.

And they do carry guns.

When they meet a dog in the course of their duties, the results are often disastrous-- but only for the dog.
She was shot by Atlanta police
An investigation in 2012 by Channel 2 News in Atlanta, GA, found that local police had shot almost 100 dogs in the past two years, many of them, like the one that sparked the investigation, family pets who posed no threat to the officers. The dog pictured above was shot by marshalls who came to serve a warrant on someone who hadn't lived at that address for eight years.
Shot by Police
According to the National Canine Research Council, dogs account for half of all intentional shootings by police. In their pamphlet for law enforcement professionals entitled The Problem of Dog-Related Incidents and Encounters, they cite the 2003 case of Patton, a dog killed by officers who stopped the owners' car.
Killed by Police
While driving home from their vacation, the Smoaks family stopped for gas, inadvertently leaving a wallet on top of the car. Someone who saw their money flying down the road called police. Thinking there had been a robbery, the officers ordered  Mr. and Mrs. Smoaks and their 17-year-old son out of the car at gunpoint and handcuffed all three of them, ignoring their request to close the car door so that the dog couldn't get out. Patton jumped out of the car, tail wagging, to greet the officers, who then shot him in the head.

Shot by police
The incident was preserved on the police video:

Since I can't bear to watch any nature program in which a baby elephant might die, I wasn't willing to watch this either. I can't imagine how awful it must have been for the Smoakes--as for every other family whose beloved pet has been killed by the very people who are supposed to protect them.

The Smoakses sued and received $77,000 in an out-of-court settlement. The state of Tennessee then passed a state law requiring highway patrol officers to receive training in canine behavior.

Besides the anger and grief of dog owners whose pets have been killed, and the cost of lawsuits, which more and more are being won by the grieving owners, police departments suffer an erosion of confidence and community support, which has got to make their job even more difficult than it already is.
This dog's family got $20,000
Shooting a dog, even a threatening one, should be a last resort. Too often, it seems to be the first response.

In 1964 Abraham Kaplan formulated the law of the instrument as follows: Give a small boy a hammer, and he will find that everything he encounters needs pounding.

Too many police officers seem to be operating under the law of the instrument.