They shoot dogs, don’t they?

Meant to post this from Conor Friedersdorf before vacation, but forgot.  Still worth it.  When one looks at all the problems with American policing, the fact that they are rampant and needless dog murderers (extensively documented by Radley Balko) may seem like relatively small potatoes, but, in truth, this very much speaks to the systemic cultural problems that are so problematic:

The police officer shot a dog that was approaching him while wagging its tail in a friendly manner—a dog that does not, in fact, appear to have been “charging” him. Then he stood his ground and shot another dog. If a non-cop were caught on camera shooting two dogs who approached in a park in the same manner, there is little doubt that they would find themselves charged with a crime, even if they possessed the gun legally and claimed self-defense. “Ciroc was shot in the jaw, Rocko in the side, face and shoulder,” the Minneapolis Star-Tribute reported. The animals survived after emergency care…

And even when humans are neither struck nor at risk nor bereaved at the loss of a beloved pet, the frequency with which dogs are shot by cops in America is alarming—and revealing.

How frequent is it?

There is no comprehensive tracking, no official number, but as I put it in a previous article, if I told you that American cops kill 50 dogs a year, would you think that’s high or low?

Well, that is the rough figure for metro Atlanta alone.

The Nationhas noted a Department of Justice estimate of 10,000 dogs per year killed by police.

Last year, Reasondug up records showing that two Detroit police officers had killed 100 dogs between them over the course of their careers. And Reasonobtained the best available data on dog shootings from several major jurisdictions that maintain some records:

A Justice Department official speculated in a 2012 interview with Policemagazine that the number could be as high as 10,000 a year, calling it “an epidemic.” That figure that is often repeated in media reports about dog shootings, but it’s little more than a guess. A 2012 study by the National Canine Research Council estimated that half of all intentional police shootings involved dogs.

Radley Balko, who has done more than any other journalist to expose these killings, has gleaned one of the keenest insights by comparing cops to others who encounter dogs:

Not every dog killing means an officer acted wrongly or maliciously… Many of the shootings occur when police attempt to control dogs that are reported to be dangerous or to have attacked someone. Making sudden movements can cause officers to reflexively reach for a weapon, and dogs greeting strangers are just about the most erratic and sudden movers of all. Officers have been knocked down and bitten by dogs they were called in to help control. About a dozen dog-bite fatalities occur every year, with most of the victims children and the elderly. Dogs can pose a real threat.

Yet killing isn’t necessarily the only option. After all, just like police officers, postal workers regularly encounter both vicious and gregarious dogs on their daily rounds. But letter carriers don’t kill dogs, even though they are bitten by the thousands every year. Instead, the Postal Service offers its employees training on how to avoid bites. (In addition, the agency keeps a centralized database of dog bites, a marked contrast to the lack of data on police killings.) At the sessions, handlers put postal workers through sample scenarios using live dogs, teaching them how to calm a dog, distract a dog and even fend one off if necessary. Similar training for meter readers has massively reduced instances of bites. Trainers say that in many cases, officers simply have no idea how to read a dog’s body language. [emphases mine]

It is not unreasonable to ask police officers to display the same degree of courage in the face of sometimes hostile canines that we ask of every United States postal carrier. Cops unable to marshal it cannot be trusted to put the public’s safety before their own.

And it is not unreasonable to ask police departments to train cops as well as meter readers when the failure to do so predictably results in needlessly killed pets and endangered humans. But many police departments don’t care enough to go to the trouble.

The final lesson from Saturday’s Minneapolis shooting is that police officers sometimes misrepresent the circumstances that ostensibly justified their decision to shoot––and that their accounts should not be presumed accurate absent corroborating video.

Says the Star-Tribune:

The woman whose dogs were shot and wounded by police in their north Minneapolis backyard — an encounter captured on residential surveillance video — wants the officer prosecuted for filing a false report that said the animals charged at him.

Attorney Michael Padden, in a statement issued Tuesday on behalf of Jennifer LeMay and her family, alleged that officer Michael Mays should be disciplined, “up to and including termination,” for what he alleged in the report filed Saturday night a few hours after shooting the dogs. Padden said it’s against the law for a peace officer to file a false report, prompting him to call on Police Chief Janeé Harteau to ensure criminal prosecution of the officer. A Police Department spokeswoman declined to respond.

If there are no consequences for filing police reports that do not reflect what actually happened, expect America’s police officers to keep filing them at the current rate.

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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