Protecting Police Canines, and Protecting Canines from the Police

Posted: November 18, 2013 in Law, Policing, Research, Violence
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While hard and fast numbers are hard to find, it looks like approximately 139 police canines had been killed in the line of duty as of 2009.

No doubt, these dogs do some dangerous work – probably more dangerous even than the human officers who rely on them to find and detain armed suspects or to enter dangerous environments first and clear the way for other officers to make a safer entry.

barking police dog

And these dogs do not mess around, as you can see in the below video (beginning at about 1:40) of a police dog subduing a fleeing carjacking suspect. They are tough, fearless, and very effective.

Carjacking suspect detained by police canine

The dangers these dogs face has lead to a number of private non-profits, like Police K9 INvest, raising funds to purchase bullet proof vests to protect police canines from gunfire, stabbing, and other hazards of their work.

Good stuff, to be sure. These dogs should enjoy as much protection as possible while doing their jobs.

At the same time, though, police shootings of pet dogs has increasingly been in the news over the last few years. According to the ASPCA, about half of all officer-involved shootings involve the police shooting at a dog.

During one nine-year period, in fact, the Milwaukee police department reportedly killed over 400 dogs, a figure that far surpasses the number of police canines killed, if the data are accurate.

Below is dashcam video of a Sandusky, Ohio, police officer shooting a family pet in an incident from early 2013. Some claim the officer acted inappropriately, while others blame the dog’s owner as ultimately being responsible. You can decide for yourself.

Sandusky officer shooting a family pet

While an animal’s safety should not come at the expense of a human police officer’s in any case, the same care, concern, and protection that’s rightly being extended to police canines should also be extended to family pets as well.

Buying a kevlar vest for Fido is probably unrealistic and, frankly, would be a bit silly – but, lobbying for police policies and practices that reduce the likelihood of a family dog being gunned down are imminently reasonable.

Again, the ASPCA has weighed in on this with a model policy that they claim is already in use by some police agencies:

Police officers shall not discharge their firearms at a dog or other animal except to protect themselves or another person from physical injury and when they have exhausted other reasonable means to eliminate the threat. If a decision is made that the animal must be killed, the officer must make every effort to insure that the discharge of his weapon is done as safely as possible. The officer should also try to kill the animal in a humane way to keep the animal from undue suffering or escape.

They also advocate for improved communication between police and local animal control organizations, improved training for officers in dealing with animals, and a more detailed use of force continuum designed to specifically address dog encounters.

All very reasonable and very doable.

Both police dogs and family pets deserve our respect and protection. Let’s do what we can to make sure they’re safe, whether they’re working the streets or hanging out in the front yard.

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