In the Line of Fire

Escrito por Jill Howard Church. Publicado en Formación de Cuerpos Policiales.

A commercial shooting range in Columbus, Georgia, has come under fire for one of the images it uses on its paper practice targets: a dog. Not just any dog, but an "angry attack dog that appears to be a pit bull," as a local TV report describes it.

That's raising the hackles of dog advocates in the area, who object to the stereotype of such breeds as dangerous. The owner of the Shooters of Columbus store claims he's a dog lover and that the image is "a standard law-enforcement target." But perhaps that's precisely the issue.

All across the country there has been an epidemic of police officers shooting dogs in a variety of circumstances that call into question the justification of deadly force. The incidents are so prevalent that a website has been set up to chronicle them all. Called "Dogs That Cops Killed," it includes videos and stories about victims such as Chloe, a mixed-breed dog in Colorado who was Tasered and then shot while being restrained with a catch pole after she wandered into a neighbor's garage.
The officer responsible now faces felony cruelty charges, but most officers involved in dog shootings are not held accountable,  including another officer in Colorado who shot a border collie named Ziggy to death in Ziggy's own yard after responding to the wrong address in a burglary call.

This Sunday a candlelight vigil is being held in Hawthorne, California, two weeks after a police officer there shot to death a young Rottweiler named Max after the dog jumped out of a car while his guardian was being handcuffed (the man was charged with interfering with police who were responding to an incident across the street). Max's guardian reportedly is filing suit against the police, and the department has been deluged with complaints and even threats.

In Northport, Alabama, last month a pit bull named Cage was shot on his front porch by a police officer investigating an incident across the street. Dozens of people protested at a Northport City Council meeting, and are demanding that officers there get training (as officers in Birmingham recently did) on how to handle dogs without automatically using deadly force.

After all, dogs don't know what a uniform means, or recognize the legal authority of police officers. Many are naturally protective, and some may in fact become aggressive under stressful circumstances. When they fend off the "bad guys" we laud them as heroes; it's just that dogs sometimes have different criteria for who'' good and who's bad - the guy wrestling your guardian to the ground could naturally be perceived as "bad." 

People, including police officers, likewise can misinterpret dog behavior; dogs bark for a variety of reasons and can run toward strangers with friendly intent. Dog guardians should prevent confrontations whenever possible, but it should be incumbent upon the armed officers to properly assess the situation and respond accordingly, just as they are supposed to do with human beings.
Police organizations are taking note; a recent article in Law Enforcement Today magazine noted (more from a legal than a humane perspective) that dogs are more often considered family members than property, and that killing them is increasingly resulting in public outcry and legal action.

The article stated:
"The trend to consider dogs as more than property will continue among many in our society.
The courts' decision to consider such a shooting as a possible civil rights violation is, however, new. This new trend is easily addressable by maintaining the old-time concept of documenting the circumstances to demonstrate the action taken at the time by the officer was objectively reasonable. Who would have thought the actions of the ASPCA in 1874 in protecting from child abuse would reinforce the value and rights of animals to the point a dog is now protected from wrongful death? Whether one is in favor or against this trend is a non-issue. Officers and administrators need to keep abreast of the changing times to offset the likelihood of a lawsuit."

Which brings us back to the issue of whether anyone, police officer or not, should be using real or imagined dogs as target practice. The type of dog depicted in the Columbus, Georgia, shooting exercise might be a stereotype, but the fact that dogs of all kinds are being gunned down on a regular basis illustrates the need for more training and awareness of when not to pull the trigger.

It's ironic that police departments regularly depend on dogs to sniff out drugs, apprehend suspects and assist with other routine police business. When those dogs die in the line of duty, they receive formal funerals and accolades. That knowledge of our canine companions ought to translate into better awareness and more responsible conduct from those we trust to serve and protect. Serving (even if it's just fetching a ball) and protecting (as a form of bonding) is also what dogs do best - and doing so shouldn't put them in the line of fire.

- Jill Howard Church

Published by Jill on 07/12/2013 22:02:31 at ASI.

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