Reason Writers Around Town: Radley Balko on Cops Shooting Dogs for The Daily Beast

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Over at The Daily Beast, Reason senior editor Radley Balko surveys a number of recent stories where police have shot and killed the family dog, and ponders why lethal force is often the cops' first option instead of the last. Excerpt:

If dangerous dogs are so common, one would expect to find frequent reports of vicious attacks on meter readers, postal workers, firemen, and delivery workers. But according to a spokesman from the United States Postal Service, serious dog attacks on mail carriers are vanishingly rare. Bites do happen, but postal workers are given training on how to distract dogs with toys, subdue them with voice commands, or, at worst, incapacitate them with Mace. Mail carriers are shown a two-hour video and given instruction on how to recognize and read a dog's body language, how to differentiate between aggressive charging and playful bounding, and how to tell a truly dangerous dog from a merely territorial one.

Few police departments offer this kind of training, though groups like the ASPCA and the Humane Society say they'd be more than happy to provide it. "New York is the only state I know of that mandates formalized training, and that's during academy," says Joseph Pentangelo, the ASPCA's assistant director for law enforcement, who also served 21 years with the NYPD before retiring in 2001. "There are some individual departments in other parts of the country that avail themselves of our training, but not many. Not enough."

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  1. Cops just don’t give a shit. They live for that kind of stuff. If they could get away with shooting the residents of the house they are raiding, they would. So, until people start holding the cops responsible, it will continue. See what happens if you shoot a dog.

  2. As I read in this website:

    “Treating the innocent people who have property destroyed and loved ones/pets killed as a mere collateral damage of the DRUG War IS A CRIME.”

    Law-Enforcement officers are careless because they are NOT RESPONSIBLE when mistakes happen. If they are held accountable WHEN THEY ARE WRONG…they would be more careful.

  3. No gonna read this until after noon. It’s too early for me to want to be irate.

  4. Radley Balko on Cops Shooting Dogs for The Daily Beast

    Cops are shooting dogs for the Daily Beast? What does that pay?
    Are pit bulls worth more than poodles?

  5. Even police dogs maintain the blue wall of silence. Bad dogs!

  6. To be fair, if we armed Postal Workers because of dangerous dogs, we’d be facing a whole new set of problems.

  7. We started by giving cops broad discretion so that they could effectively do their jobs. Then it became apparent that cops couldn’t effectively ‘police’ themselves, and they could make it impossible to have any type of outside accountability. Instead of making cops accountable, we apparently said ‘screw it, shoot whatever you want’. The sad thing is that people will conjure images of a presa canario mauling a cop in defense of that cop when he shoots a cocker spaniel out of convenience.

  8. Law-Enforcement officers are careless

    I dispute this. I don’t think it’s carelessness at all.

    The police know that if they shoot a dog they will get away with it. They’re shooting dogs for the sheer joy of it.

  9. Fluffy is right. They are anything but carless. These raids are more military than law enforcement. They consider their own safety to be paramount. Why risk getting bit when you can just shoot the dog? It is SOP to shoot the dog.

    The question of course is why in the hell have we turned these tactics lose on our own citizens. The rule should be better to have ten cops hurt than one innocent person hurt. Instead, it is the opposite. In the cops eyes people’s lives are worth less than theirs. Given that, how much do you think they value a dog’s life?

  10. If you’ve ever listened to a cop talk about “punishing” someone they were arresting for resisting or giving them a hard time, you’d know that they shoot the dogs because they like it. There is a sadistic streak that runs through any cop I’ve ever interacted with. Some more, some less, but it’s there. I don’t know if people like that become cops, or if being a cop instills that in you, but it’s pretty much ubiquitous.

  11. They’re shooting dogs for the sheer joy of it

    And you wonder why nobody takes libertarians seriously.

  12. This observation needs to be repeated and highlighted as it succinctly states the problem:

    Law-Enforcement officers are careless because they are NOT RESPONSIBLE when mistakes happen. If they are held accountable WHEN THEY ARE WRONG…they would be more careful.

    The older I get the more I have come to think that the police are nothing more than a gang of thugs that in general tend to be on “my side” more than they are not, but a gang of thugs never-the-less.

    To those that reactively support the police or policemen that are offended by this statement can easily just write me off as a douche bag. However, what I think they really need to do is wonder how they lost the public relations battle with a guy like me – fuck, I am the guy that they should have assumed supports them – white, middle-class male, suburban, father, enlisted veteran, university educated engineer, gun-owner, hunter, Southpark Republican – I am everything the Obamatrons hate. Yet, I hate the fucking cops. Especially, whenever I see them dressing-up and playing army!

  13. The police know that if they shoot a dog they will get away with it.

    True.

    They’re shooting dogs for the sheer joy of it.

    I don’t think so. They shoot dogs because it’s the easiest way to deal with the situation. It’s dog—>shoot it—>back to work.

  14. There is a chance, however small, that a cop might get in trouble for shooting a small child in order to intimidate the parents. Dogs? Never.

    Baboons with guns; intimidation and dominance are what it’s all about.

  15. And you wonder why nobody takes libertarians seriously.

    Apparently, cop dick tastes better when lubed with dog blood.

  16. And you wonder why nobody takes libertarians seriously.

    Everywhere in history where agents of the state have been allowed to abuse or kill people with impunity, they’ve done so, and enjoyed it.

    That to me makes it virtually certain that now that it’s permissible for LEO’s to kill dogs with impunity, they’re delighted to do so and I’ll bet it’s all a big laugh to them.

    Our police are provided with certain powers, one of which is to carry a weapon. But their power to discharge that weapon is bound up with all sorts of rules and regulations that constrain their ability to enjoy the exercise of that power, except with dogs. Somewhere along the line, shooting a dog became an acceptable outlet for the LEO’s frustrated desire to experience the power of using his weapon. And so naturally that outlet is now used. Catharsis is a powerful temptation, for LEO’s as much as anyone else.

  17. Do the targets at the cop range have dog silhouettes on them? I smell a business opportunity.

  18. “However, what I think they really need to do is wonder how they lost the public relations battle with a guy like me – fuck, I am the guy that they should have assumed supports them – white, middle-class male, suburban, father, enlisted veteran, university educated engineer, gun-owner, hunter, Southpark Republican – I am everything the Obamatrons hate. Yet, I hate the fucking cops. Especially, whenever I see them dressing-up and playing army!”

    You are not alone. My entire family are law abiding middle class gun toting types who have never been in trouble for anything. Yet, between the DUI crackdowns, the speed traps, and bullshit like this, none of us have any use for cops.

  19. A LEO in Danville, Va was just fired for shooting a 8lb miniature dachshund. Elderly dog.
    Some small justice, I guess.

    Would like to see the mayor of the Maryland town win a suit against the cops that shot his two dogs in a mistaken identity no-knock raid earlier this year.

  20. “If dangerous dogs are so common, one would expect to find frequent reports of vicious attacks on meter readers, postal workers, firemen, and delivery workers.”

    You left out eating new borns:

    Dog drags newborn from family home in Ky.

    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2009/07/21/national/a071353D07.DTL&tsp=1

  21. The dingo ate your baby, Gobbler? Did you get the cops to shoot it?

  22. yawn

  23. Gobbler logic: A dog drags a baby from a house, therefore all cop shootings of dogs are A-OK.

    Seriously low-grade trolling. Slipping into Dan T. territory.

  24. I would take it pretty hard if some cop ever shot my dog in a botched raid. I really like my dog. But the problem ain’t dead dogs, it’s the haphazard raids. I kinda worry that journalists concentration on the dogs trivializes the real issue.

  25. Really, please take a course in basic logic. It will help you in so many new and wonderful ways.

  26. Don’t tell us who you normally post under, Gobbler. Epi and I have long memories and no appreciation for sub-par trolling.

  27. Why get training when we can just sit around like fat fucks and eat donuts?

  28. Reason has a time honored tradition of above average trolls, and we can’t have you bringing down our reputation, Gobbler. Go back to troll school and try and find an instructor named “Cesar”. He could teach you a thing or two.

  29. Screaming starts at 0:55, btw.

  30. Maybe “The Gobbler” is Bill Nelson; a snake being kept in a house strangles a little girl.

    The obvious solution to this grievous threat is the eradication of snakes in the wild.

  31. P Brooks

    Pythons do not live naturally in the wild in Florida. There has been something of a drive to exterminate non-native species for a long time.

    But, that Bill Nelson is an idiot, yep, I agree. And his overreaction to “python strangles child’ was pretty predictable given his past proposals.

  32. Isaac-

    The non-native species issue is a legitimate concern.

    The complete and utter disconnect between “problem” and “solution” in Nelson’s proposal is just funny.

  33. If dangerous dogs are so common, one would expect to find frequent reports of vicious attacks on meter readers, postal workers, firemen, and delivery workers.

    I have to play devil’s advocate.

    I had a Cairn Terrier. Andy greeted strangers with barking, tail wagging, typical cautious dog alarm behavior. Once we greeted the visitor Andy was ready to be petted.

    Except for the day a certain stranger approached one of our daughters. That time Andy was all-business. Bare teeth, hair standing up, crouched, growling. Completely different behavior. Our kid took the hint and ran for Mom. Mom took the hint and called the cops. By the time they arrived the man was long gone, but the responding officer took the situation as seriously as we did.

    Family dogs can be dangerous to those who are dangerous to their families. Which doesn’t justify SWAT raids in situations where there are not hostages to rescue.

  34. The complete and utter disconnect between “problem” and “solution” in Nelson’s proposal is just funny.

    Funny disconnects are pretty typical for Bill Nelson. But he’s still one of the most popular politicians in Florida.

    Charlie Crist has jumped on the “kill the pythons” bandwagon too. Between the environmentalists who have been pushing for it for years there’s nothing like a warm fuzzy “for the children” plan.

    I don’t know how many pythons there are in the wild in Fla, but I once saw a cobra in Seminole County. I just hope it was a singleton and that there’s no breeding pair around. I’d’ve shot it if I’d been armed. It would have been cool to get it stuffed in a striking position to scare the hell out of visitors.

  35. Dogs would bite a lot more EMS/Fire responders if we didn’t make their owners leash/sequester them before we enter.

    They have a tendency to think we may be hurting their owner, which inclines them to attack.

  36. I note that the dog who dragged the baby from the house was pursued for 10 minutes by the father. I suspect that if the father had distracted the dog with treats or a toy, the damage to the baby would have been far less. Instead, he threatened and chased the dog. Do you think that did the kid any good?

    I shudder to think how a wrong-door raid on our house would turn out. Certainly, both dogs dead (the old one doesn’t take kindly to uninvited strangers, and the young one will back her up). A high probability of an exchange of fire (if someone kicks in my door and starts shooting, I believe I would respond in kind). And I’m completely law-abiding (these days).

  37. @wingnutx – Wouldn’t that be great SOP for SWAT teams!

    To Radley… I would name my next dog Balko if I didn’t already have one named Bonds.

  38. The Colorado Springs story is especially sad. Parents need to teach children never to talk to the police unless it’s on the childs initiative. Certainly a child should never let the police into the house unless they called the police.

    It’s insane that the police would take a childs permission to enter a house as an invitation to walk into the bathroom where the owner is taking a shower, but there you go.

  39. I see a new market emerging for dog body armor. Imagine the look on Barney Fiffs face when he shoots a pit bull and the dog just keeps on coming. Priceless.

    Personally I have a cat (daughters) that I hate, along with several dogs of my own 2 that are large dogs. If anyone ever kicks down my door and the cat is close by I am going to be pitching my best catball right at them. That cat has put more dogs to shame than I can count, would be interesting to see how a cop reacts to a cat clinging to his face freaked out.

    Oh and I am totally with those that say they have no use for police and find nothing but mistrust for them. I will never vote for a pay increase for Cops EVER.

  40. Good article except for this.

    It is easy to imagine that some breeds of dog might legitimately pose a threat to police officers in volatile situations.

  41. The police department in my city is notorious for shooting dogs and black people. It doesn’t matter how harmless the dog is, or how superficial a dog bite would be. Just shoot it and get back to work, like J sub D said. If it’s not out of joy then it’s for target practice.

    As for black people, I think you should figure out if someone is dangerous before shooting them, not just firing your weapon out of caution. And then, can’t they learn to shoot people in the shoulder or something? I assume black people dislike dying as much as white people do.

  42. And then, can’t they learn to shoot people in the shoulder or something?

    Actually, no, they can’t.

    If less than deadly force is sufficient to deal with the situation, a gun is not the approriate instrument.

    And the use of deadly force by a police officer is only approriate when there is a clear threat to someone’s life.

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