Civil Liberties

If Decency Won't Stop Cops From Shooting Dogs, Maybe Lawsuits Will, Suggests Justice Department


Three years ago, the Justice Department's Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) published a report on The Problem of Dog-Related Incidents and Encounters. The report noted that police encounter dogs on a daily basis, that more than half of Americans consider their pets family members, and that officers really should develop better familiarity with pooches and less-shooty responses when coming into contact with our furry friends.

That report has now been integrated into a larger portal, hosted at the University of Illinois' Institute of Government and Public Affairs. The portal on police and dog encounters includes instructional videos narrated by Terry Hillard, retired superintendent of the Chicago Police Department. The videos offer guidance on assessing canine body language, use of force considerations, and when police can expect to get their asses sued after plugging Fido. 

That legal considerations video cautions, "On the streets you patrol, in the homes you enter, with the families you serve and protect, dogs are a part of the community fabric. And more and more, the community is watching and judging how police handle their encounters with dogs."

It then cuts to a news report about a six-figure cash award to a family whose dog was killed by police.

"As lawsuits are filed, and awards and damages mount, municipal legal staffs, police departments, and even officers themselves are forced to contront this issue."

An attorney then notes that individual police officers are personally on the hook for punitive damages.

The video even cautions against insisting that every dog shot is a pit bull (a point that comes up with regularity), since DNA tests can now falsify such claims. "You have pitbull in your report, but it's everything but a pitbull. So, what else could you have made a mistake about?"

Note that COPS isn't just pushing back against puppycide incidents. Militarized policing overall is on its radar. A December 2013 article by senior policy analyst Karl Bickel frets:

Police chiefs and sheriffs may want to ask themselves—if after hiring officers in the spirit of adventure, who have been exposed to action oriented police dramas since their youth, and sending them to an academy patterned after a military boot camp, then dressing them in black battle dress uniforms and turning them loose in a subculture steeped in an "us versus them" outlook toward those they serve and protect, while prosecuting the war on crime, war on drugs, and now a war on terrorism—is there any realistic hope of institutionalizing community policing as an operational philosophy?

Excellent question. Let's see if we can get police to back off on the dog-shooting. Then maybe we can get police departments to stand down on the armored vehicles and military tactics.

Emphasizing the personal legal and financial consequences of acting like a day on the job is a first-person-shooter video game may be an effective tactic.