Let the Pooches Romp! Austin Cops Get Trained to Avoid Shooting Dogs.


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Most cop-and-dog stories end with a bang—an all too literal one as a pooch wanders within pistol range of a police officer who thinks pats on the head should come in 9mm increments. But Austin, Texas, is trying to get ahead of the curve on the whole puppycide issue. Two years ago, after a series of high-profile incidents involving the unnecessary shooting of dogs, the city's police department revised its policies to require "an imminent threat of bodily injury" before lethal force is used against canines (the old standard allowed shooting if a dog was merely perceived as dangerous). The hour-long video course the Austin PD attached to the policy revision apparently didn't do the trick, so the department is now putting its entire, 1,700-strong force, through a hands-on class. Several neighboring towns are following suit.

At the Austin American-Statesman, Esther Robards-Forbes writes:

[I]n the wake of several high-profile dog shootings, the Austin Police Department decided this spring to put all of its sworn officers through Osorio's four-hour, hands-on class. Leander opted for the eight-hour course last fall, and Round Rock adopted the same eight-hour course in June after two dog shootings this year, one of which has resulted in a lawsuit against the department. Officers from Sunset Valley and Liberty Hill have piggybacked onto some of the training sessions, and Cedar Park is considering implementing the training after an officer shot a charging pit bull in July.

All of these departments have chosen the training voluntarily. Activists, many of whom have lost dogs to police shootings, plan to push a bill in the next legislative session to require such training statewide.

Training for dealing with canines became mandatory for Colorado police officers last year, but the law in that state allows for three hours of online instruction—not quite the same thing as actually working with dogs. Still, the push to teach police non-lethal means for dealing with dogs is picking up steam, no doubt fueled by unpleasant headlines, pissed off members of the public, and flurries of expensive lawsuits.

If I had to bet, I'd say that lawsuits play the biggest role. The American-Statesman article mentions a lawsuit against Round Rock, and the tab can add up quickly. Pembroke Pines, Florida, settled for $20,000 after a pointless dog shooting, Riverside, California, paid out $30,000 after an officer needlessly shot a dog, LaGrange, Missouri, wrote a check for $50,000, Des Moines, Iowa, coughed up $51,000 after a similar incident, and Costa Mesa, California, got whacked for $225,000 when a police officer unloaded 15 rounds on a mutt while chasing two boys for the high crime of riding bicycles without helmets.

Even the U.S. Department of Justice has made efforts to remind police officers that pistol targets don't come with collars and wagging tails. Through its Community Oriented Policing Services office, the DOJ sponsors a Police & Dog Encounters website that, among other things, warns that there can be pricey legal consequences for emptying a magazine into Spot.

Austin apparently got the message.

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  1. Most cop-and-dog stories end with a bang…

    Well, no, just the ones we hear about. I’d agree we hear about too many of these stories.

  2. I can just picture the training now.

    Handler: Now, I’m going to let Missy out of her crate and pass her around. Don’t worry, she’s an 11 year old Shih-Tzu and is used to strangers petting her.

    Handler opens up the crate and 4 dozen cops reach for their guns.

    Handler: See? Now you can see her teeth because it’s a bit warm in here and she’s panting to cool down.

    Shot rings out from somewhere and the handler, Missy go down in a hail of gunfire along with 2 cops sitting in the front row.

    1. You missed the part where the dog was actually a stuffed animal, and a particularly unrealistic one, at that.

  3. 843,000 people live in Austin. 1700 of them are cops. That’s a cop for every 495 people, which sounds more than little absurd to me.

    1. Somebody needs to patrol supermarkets making sure there are no plastic bags at the checkout!

    2. You can have some of ours. NYC is way more copped than that.

    3. How else do expect 12 of ’em to be available to pile on at a minute’s notice?

  4. Pembroke Pines, Florida, settled for $20,000 after a pointless dog shooting, Riverside, California, paid out $30,000 after an officer needlessly shot a dog, LaGrange, Missouri, wrote a check for $50,000, Des Moines, Iowa, coughed up $51,000 after a similar incident, and Costa Mesa, California, got whacked for $225,000 when a police officer unloaded 15 rounds on a mutt

    They’re all the lucky ones, meaning the ones who don’t shoot my dog. It would likely end with a large hole in a pig’s body (where would depend on how merciful I’m feeling that day).

  5. They need to be trained not to shoot dogs?

    1. Statistics would suggest…

    2. Technically they need to be trained in mitigation of canine seeking tendencies of a peace officer deployed firearm during hostile vocalization and aggressive property protection episodes.

      1. Somewhere, a cop just got a boner…

    3. They need to be trained to use the correct wording in their reports and during the ensuing lawsuit to avoid a payout. Now that they’ve had TRAINING, it’s obvious that any future dog shootings will have been absolutely necessary.

    4. A cop not using his gun when he has one requires years of training… decades even.

      But TO shoot, six weeks is what I understand.

  6. The training had jolly well better explicitly contain segments on how to avoid “confusing” dogs with cats or other wild beasts.

  7. Prediction – this will be as successful as “teaching men not to rape”.

  8. Maybe this is a positive step in the right direction…maybe. What pisses me off is that it intentionally furthers the myth that this issue has anything at all to do with cops not knowing how to safely and respectfully interact with dogs.

  9. “an imminent threat of bodily injury” before lethal force is used against canines

    Isn’t that what every single cop that ever shot a dog ever has claimed he feared? How will this change anything? Or did they ad on an “and we really, really mean it” on the end of it?

  10. Oh, and uh, lest you think the Costa Mesa police who killed the dog while chasing the bike helmet scofflaws admitted any wrongdoing or will change their procedures:

    Harold Potter, the assistant city attorney who negotiated the settlement, said Paul was poised to attack and that police were in the right when they killed him.

    “There has absolutely been no determination of police misconduct,” he said, but other factors led to the city’s payout. “For one thing, juries like dogs more than people.”

    Lawsuits will do nothing to change this behavior. Nothing.

    The consequences have to be direct, painful and targeted. Personal, even.

    1. Oh, and it gets better. If that’s even possible:

      During the legal proceeding, which was settled with the help of a mediator, Potter acknowledged that tapes of the radio transmissions made during the incident were improperly destroyed. He said in an interview that the erasure was unintentional and occurred when the tapes were reused to record radio transmissions months later.

      Yeah, lapel cameras are totally the answer to our problems. Totally. Because accidental and mysterious erasures or ‘corrupted files’ will never happen. Because consequences! Heroes to a one!

      1. *facepalm*

        Wisener’s uniform was also not available during the legal proceeding. Steering had requested that it be produced to determine whether the officer had been bitten. Potter said the uniform had already “outlived its useful life and was thrown out.”

        So exactly what evidence remained that wasn’t willfully destroyed by the cops?

        Steering said Mansfield and her two boys “are going to use the money to move out of town.”

        Wise. I’m sure they were marked for death after that.

  11. I wish I could get paid to play with dogs.

  12. My neighbor is a cop. He owns a large friendly dog named Hank that runs at people barking tail up. It is big and my daughter is scared of it. A few years ago Hank ran into our yard barking. My daughter turned and ran and Hank, as dogs do, chased her. I knew she was in no danger so grabbed Hank by the collar. The cop owner showed up seconds later apologizing. I told him that if I was a cop the dog would be dead. Hank has never chased my daughter since.

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