Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Maybe cops and dogs don't mix so well

Twice in recent days, police officers have gunned down family pets in incidents where the animals posed little or no clear threat to humans. The killings raise serious questions about law enforcement attitudes toward the use of force, law enforcement attitudes toward the general population and the potential for violent confrontations between police and the people they are supposed to protect.

In Park Forest, Illinois, police investigating a burglary entered the yard of the Walker family with a police dog in tow. Princess, the Walker's German shepherd-pit bull mix, apparently smelled the police canine on the other side of the door and scratched to be let out. Thinking the dog needed to answer a call of nature, the Walkers' 10-year-old son opened the door, at which point Princess ran to investigate the intruders.

One of the officers promptly shot the dog with his service revolver.

According to the Southtown Star, "Walker said the bleeding dog crawled back into the house, spilling blood everywhere, including on the hands of Walker's two stunned children."

Princess died of blood loss.

In Pittsburgh, a sheriff's deputy knocked on Tara Mangan's door, intending to deliver tax documents to the upstairs neighbor. According to WPXI, "She said she directed him to the French doors on the side of the house. Moments later, she said she heard a gunshot and found Lincoln dead in the back yard."

The deputy claimed a misunderstanding in the shooting of Lincoln, a 10-month-old pit bull. He thought he was being attacked and didn't realize that the dog was leashed and unable to reach him. Mangan disagrees.

“There is no misunderstanding. He shot my dog maliciously."

It would be bad enough if canine killings were just isolated excesses. But they're not nearly rare enough.

In September, a Mount Olive, North Carolina, police officer killed a 45-pound Labrador retriever with two shotgun blasts, despite the protests of a bystander, after it bared its teeth. He then stuffed the dog's body in a plastic bag, dumped it by the curb and left a note for the owner accusing her of owning a "vicious dog."

And in August, Grady County, Oklahoma, Deputy Sean Knight stopped in Blanchard at the home of Tammy Christopher to ask directions. He ended up shooting her approaching dog in the head. A video of that incident has become evidence in a lawsuit against Knight, the county and the state.

The most famous such recent incident was undoubtedly the killing of two dogs at the home of Berwyn Heights, Maryland, Mayor Cheye Calvo. The animals were gunned down during a particularly senseless raid after police had already intercepted a package of marijuana addressed to Calvo's wife -- and which authorities already had good reason to believe was supposed to be retrieved by a smuggling ring before ever reaching the Berwyn Heights address.

Calvo and his wife were cleared -- and so were the quick-to-shoot police officers who could as easily have killed innocent people as they gunned down dogs.

Which is the sort of big, red flag that appears in each and every one of these incidents.

Time and again, police and government officials have gone out of their way to excuse such shootings. Park Forest Deputy Police Chief Mike McNamara insists his officer "had no choice but to shoot the dog." Allegheny County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Joseph Rizzo claimed his deputy had "no recourse." Mount Olive Town Manager Charles Brown says, "any time an officer feels threatened, they have the right to respond." And Prince George's County Sheriff Michael Jackson claims "the guys did what they were supposed to do."

Never mind that these killings of household pets typically occur when the police are guests on private property -- sometimes as intruders, with minimal justification. The shootings, at the very least, display a remarkably cavalier attitude toward the personal property represented by pets, and a frightening willingness to use lethal force in response to the slightest provocation. That animals are on the receiving end of that force explains why the police officers in these incidents usually get off with little or no punishment, and often are protected by their departments.

But, as we all know, pets aren't just animals, and they're not just property. If we need academic confirmation of our own feelings about our pets, research by David Blouin, a graduate student at Indiana University, reveals that "[m]ore American dog owners report being close to their dog than report being close to their own mother or father. ... Most pet owners view their animals as family members."

Police live in the same world as the rest of us. They're fully aware of the relationships most people have with their dogs, and they still reach all too easily for their guns when an animal comes to sniff an intruder or bares its teeth in defense of its yard.

That relationship has more disturbing implications. Given the familial connection so many people feel to their animals, and the proximity of so many pet shootings to private homes in which people live and keep whatever weapons they may own, it's inevitable that killings of dogs will ultimately result in confrontations with people. Put bluntly, somebody is going to see a stranger in a blue shirt gun down Rover in the backyard and grab a shotgun to settle the score.

You can't shoot down a family member without people reacting as if a family member has been shot down, no matter what the law or department policy may say.

Do police not understand where their actions inevitably lead? Or do they not care?



Blogger bobby said...

Based on that video, and assuming there's no evidence that gives some different slant to what it shows, the dog's owner would NOT want me to be picked for her jury.

November 18, 2008 10:54 PM  
Anonymous M.S said...

Why should they care about dogs when most of them walk free after wrongfully killing an innocent HUMAN. I'm sure it'll lead to someone retaliating... and the police will immediately jump on that with the meme of how they are "outgunned" by "criminals".
I noticed in the video that the deputy made absolutely no effort to get inside his vehicle nor did he retreat in a manner that would indicate he felt threatened.

M.S, Phoenix.

November 19, 2008 6:30 AM  
Blogger Divemedic said...

You forget that the police officer was trespassing when the shooting occurred. He was not there on official business, he had no warrant, and had not reason for being a trespasser on private property.

The LEO states he was there to ask directions, because he was lost.

If I did that, it would not be self defense, it would be armed trespassing, and a host of other charges.

November 19, 2008 7:22 AM  
Anonymous the infamous oregon lawhobbit said...

JD, you forgot one aspect - fear. Police are taught from Day One to fear what could happen to them and be paranoid of all they come in contact with. They clearly cannot (in most cases, not always) be routinely shooting humans over their fear, but it's becoming more and more common for animals to bear the brunt of the officers' mental health issues.

November 19, 2008 7:40 AM  
Anonymous Doug said...

I hate police. I've hated police since I was 7 years old, when my parents turned in the cocaine dealer next door... whom turned out to be friends with the local magistrate... whom proceeded to have my father jailed on false charges over the next 10 years until my parents finally stopped being good christians turning the other cheek. They spent their savings on an attorney, resulting in punishment of several officers involved in these malicious activities against law abiding tax payers; my father's name was cleared... but not surprisingly, his "records" were "lost". These cases you cite are more ammunition in my hatred of police... and on a larger scale, more ammo in my war on the Amerikan police state. Down with the Stasi!

November 19, 2008 9:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a regular runner. Over the past 15 years I've encountered a lot of dogs on my morning runs. From experience I have found that a harshly and loudly voiced "STOP" command will get most dogs' attention. Then with slow movements and lots of loud "NO"s I can usually remove myself from the threat. I have never been bitten or attacked. Police in these incidents seem too quick to pull a gun.

November 20, 2008 7:00 AM  
Blogger Justin said...

my father was an officer and he was one of the most hate filled corrupt men you would never want to meet. I have always had disdain for officers walking around like they own everybody when they are in fact public servants. My house got raided one time for "drugs" of which there were none and nothing became of the incident. ( i dont do drugs) I am just glad my dog wasn't at the house at the time. but i did have to pay for a new door. i fear police slightly less than the thugs down the street.

December 23, 2008 8:00 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home