Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Dogs, Police, and Use of Force-Part 1 of 3

It seems that lately I can't open my inbox without a note of one kind or another about a Police Officer using deadly force against a dog. Loose dogs, pet dogs, big dogs, little dogs-dogs charging, barking, running away or allegedly simply standing there. Is this on the rise? Is there an epidemic of the use of deadly force against pets? I am not convinced either way-I suspect that is may be a result of the speed of, and breadth by which these stories are spread due to social media and citizen journalists, bypassing mainstream avenues-but the jury is still out. The problem is, these cases are gaining a great amount of attention, not just here in the US but across a surprisingly global audience. So I want to take a few minutes of your time and talk about the issue, the perceptions, and possible solutions to the perceived problem.

First off: full disclosure time. I am a retired Police Lieutenant. I served 22 years with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, Jacksonville, Florida. I never shot a dog during my career. I am biased-in most cases I will go out of my way to defend a brother Officer, even if I may have personal misgivings that the incident could have been handled better. I understand the stresses, the pressure, and the need for immediate decision making in critical incidents. I also have no patience for bad cops. I am not here to criticize, or defend anyone. I want to look at contacts between officers and pets and try to get both the pets and the officers home in one, safe package.

With that out of the way let's look at the problem. How do we reduce conflict between dogs and Police Officers? In what situations are these conflicts occurring, and what tools do we have to reduce these incidents? Where does responsibility lie?

There are several general categories of contact between police and dogs that seem to encompass most of the situations. I am going to break them into groups: High-Risk encounters; Emergency responses; Public Safety encounters; Low Risk encounters; Seizures; and Nuisance encounters.

High-Risk encounters are the easiest to classify, and perhaps the clearest of the bunch for us to respond to. These are the drug and violent crime raids. SWAT or another unit is making a fast, forcible entry into dangerous territory. The bad guys are likely armed, and likely have little to lose by resisting. The dogs in these situations are potential weapons. The officers will likely also be confronted by humans bearing other weapons, like firearms. The potential for officer injury or death is high. No one in this situation has the time to conduct a lengthy negotiation with a hostile animal, even if that animal is acting aggressively due to mistreatment or fear. Perhaps I am a speciest, but human safety comes first. That said, a High-Risk situation is not a free ticket to blast away at any animals present, any more than it is a free ride to shoot any humans out of hand (we will leave terrorist encounters out of this equation). There are tools that can be used to reduce risk from animals that are quick and reasonable.

The best of those tools is information. No one raids a location without at least some advance intelligence about the location and the potential occupants. Pre-raid surveillance should include establishing whether there are animals present, and whether those animals seem to present a valid threat. If the intelligence establishes that the bad guy has trained, aggressive dogs that are little more than four-legged weapons those dogs are a clear threat. On the other hand, a hound dog that spends his days hanging out on the front porch, probably not so much. Either way, the presence of the animals has been noted, and contingency plans can be put in place. Frankly, if my intelligence said the dogs were trained to attack I would be more proactive in removing the threat.

In some cases this degree of information may not be present-yet there are still indicators. Are there dogs chained up? Can you get past them without releasing them? Are there less lethal methods, such as OC spray, that can be rapidly deployed to deter or temporarily disable the dogs while still allowing the officers to respond safely to the more likely human threat? Can the entry team, and the suspects, be isolated quickly and safely from the dogs? Can the dogs simply be taken out of the equation?

These are High-Risk situations, and as such there are clear limits to the amount of time and effort that can be devoted to animals during entry and securing the scene. But most of the situations in which animals and Police come into conflict are not High-Risk encounters.

Second on my list is Emergency Response. These cases are where a human is in immediate danger or has been injured and a dog is "protecting" the victim. These are survival situations. If the dog is not removed quickly a human may die. These, like High-Risk encounters, don't give a responding officer much time. Other emergency responders, like medical services, may be on scene and trying to get to the victim. These situations are touchy in that the dog is doing what it is supposed to do-protecting its owner. Less lethal alternatives should be on the front burner here. The dog doesn't understand that the strangers are there to help. Time is of the essence, but compassion for both the human victim and the dog is a clear consideration.

Of course if the dog is the source of the injury, or reasonably appears  to be the source of the injury, the game is changed. The dog must be removed before doing more damage, and the person's injuries addressed. Even here deadly force is not necessarily the first choice. Depending on the positioning of the dog and victim, shooting the dog may present a clear danger to the victim. Disengaging the dog is the first priority, but sacrificing the victim in the process, or even adding to the victim's injuries, is not an option. For evidence I personally prefer the dog in such a case be kept alive if possible, but human safety reigns supreme. Still, initial disengagement of the dog may better proceed using less lethal options, if for nothing more than separation of victim and target for a clear shot, with a safe(r) backdrop.

One factor to be considered in cases where the dog is the source, or apparent source, of the injury/threat is physical evidence. A dog destroyed as a result of a serious or life threatening attack is evidence, possibly of a crime. We do not casually destroy evidence. Evidence is what we need to hold a human, often the owner, responsible for their actions, or lack of action. In the rare case that a dog must be destroyed on scene for immediate safety, any deadly force (gunshot) deployed should be to the dog's center of mass-the middle of its body. Head shots are not ideal-not only will the gunshot likely damage the dog's jaws, a potentially critical piece of evidence, but the head of a dog is a difficult target to hit. Imagine firing at a grapefruit bouncing down the street. Additionally, anyone who has examined the skull of a large dog will tell you that the skull is a very thick chunk of bone, with lots of angled surfaces. Even a police duty round may have trouble penetrating, especially if it hits at an odd angle or the head is moving away at the moment of impact. In an emergency, just like when defending against people, body shots are the most reasonable and reliable.

I would remind all readers that the purpose of police use of force, particularly deadly force, is not to "shoot to kill". The justification for use of deadly force is to remove a credible and immediate threat-no more. If, for instance, I am confronted by an armed subject, I am not authorized to "shoot to kill". I am only lawfully allowed to shoot until the threat is removed. Thus, if I fire once, miss, and the bad guy drops his weapon (been there) I have to hold my fire. I can't "finish him off", no matter how much I might want to. The legal cause is suddenly no longer valid. If I shoot a person once and they fall and surrender, or can't continue the assault, then the incident is over. If I shoot again I have violated the law and used excessive force.

I would suggest that Officers who have to deploy lethal force against dogs take the same factors into consideration-you are shooting to remove the threat. If the first shot takes the dog down and he is unable to re-engage, the incident is over. The next proper step is to contact Animal Control or whomever is responsible for providing, in your jurisdiction, emergency care for a wounded animal. A decision to "finish him off" or to "euthanize" such an animal should be left to a Veterinarian and the owner. It is not the responsibility of the Police to determine the appropriateness of veterinary care-nor are they trained to do so.

Next time: Part 2; Public Safety and Low Risk encounters.


  1. I'm looking forward to reading the rest of this 3 part report. Obviously you have had a ton of experience regarding these situations - and I'm very curious to hear about it from someone who actually knows, and not someone trying to protect the officer or the dog.

    I'm sad to say that this happened recently not too far from where I live. And I wanted to ask you - do you think the area can influence how an officer reacts to a situation? For example, do you think the police give more respect to high end people than they do low rent people? The dog, in my area, was shot and killed - in a low rent area. The officers didn't announce their arrival to the people that lived in the house - the dog was in a fenced back yard and the officers entered the yard without warning - the dog was shot for "growling" at the intruding officer. Now, honestly, do you think that the officers would have acted such a disrespectful manner to someone in a higher rental area? I doubt it.

  2. An example of how to NOT shoot dogs during raids.

    Weapons, drugs seized in Hampton Beach, Seabrook raids

    By Aaron Sanborn | | May 05, 2012

    HAMPTON — Five Seacoast residents were arrested Friday morning on various drug charges following police raids at two homes in Hampton Beach and one in Seabrook that resulted in marijuana, cocaine and weapons being seized.

    Authorities said the raids and subsequent arrests were the result of a year long investigation by multiple agencies into significant drug activity in the area. Search warrants were executed at around 8 a.m. at 7 I St. and 7 Perkins Ave. in Hampton and at 71 Washington St., Seabrook, according to police.

    Police arrested James Ambrosi, 31; Andrew Wojtowicz, 24; Vicki Powell, 31; James Neptune, 27 and David Briere, 28. Ambrosi and Wojtowicz were arraigned Friday in U.S. District Court in Concord on federal truck trafficking charges, according to Hampton Deputy Police Chief Richard Sawyer. Powell, Neptune and Briere are facing state-level charges for possession and sale of drugs, Sawyer said.

    Sawyer said authorities seized an unspecified amount of marijuana and cocaine from the three homes, along with several firearms, including one that was reported stolen. Sawyer declined to comment on the specific firearms seized.

    He said there were no injuries during the raids.

    Sawyer declined to elaborate on what sparked the investigation, saying only it was a large investigation into the sale of illicit drugs in the Hampton area involving Hampton police, the U.S. Attorney's Office, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the N.H. Attorney General's Drug Task Force.

    "It was a yearlong investigation, and as the scope got larger, we brought in more agencies and resources," he said. "I think that speaks for itself."

    Those in the area at the time of the raid reported a significant police presence.

    "I saw a commotion," said witness Mary Sullivan, who works at nearby Wally's Pub.

    Sullivan said she was on Ashworth Avenue when she saw authorities arrive in multiple Hampton cruisers and unmarked cruisers.

    Hampton police, the Seacoast Emergency Response Team, Southern New Hampshire Special Operations Unit, Seabrook Police Department, Rockingham County Sheriff's Department, N.H. State Police and the U.S. Marshals Service were all involved in the raids, police said.

    Sawyer said the large response was needed given the size of the operation, involving three homes and the threat of weapons.

    "Any time there's a potential for weapons being present, we have to take that into consideration," he said.

    Animal control was also called in to assist.

    "We had information that at the locations there was a possibility of dogs and pit bulls that could be hazardous to the officers," Sawyer said.

    Four pit bulls were taken from the Perkins Avenue location, according to Sawyer.

    The drug investigation remains ongoing, and additional charges and arrests are possible, Sawyer said.

    Neptune is being held on $10,000 cash bail, while Briere is being held on $5,000 cash bail, police said. Powell has posted $2,500 cash bail, according to police. All three are scheduled for arraignment June 6 at the 10th Circuit Court in Seabrook.

    Sawyer said police are familiar with all five of the individuals arrested.

    Anyone with information pertaining to this investigation or any other crimes is asked to call the Hampton Police Department at 929-4444, or contact Crimeline for the Hamptons by e-mail at or by calling 929-1222.

  3. Have you read these cases of police shooting dogs?
    If so than you are aware that the majority are unneccessary use of deadly force. They are also dismissed with no actual investigation with an officer statement of "feeling threatened". How is it that a full grown man, armed with nonlethal and lethal weapons, "trained" to protect and serve, who has at least one other officer there for back up, would ever feel "threatened" enough to pull a gun and shoot a 35lb dogultiple tmes?
    I have read hundreds of these cases in the past few months and not one, if i were in the officers position, would i feel compelled to shoot.
    How do unarmed civillians coexist with these same animals on a daily basis without ever needing to shoot?

    You are addressing the issue from an inetersting perspective, which is appreciated. However i see that you are down playing the realities of.the incidents.
    Someone who is unaware of this type of thing happening might read your artical and come away thinking that in general this happens rarely and is unfortunate that the officer HAD to shoot the dog. That is very misleading.
    If you are familiar with this disgusting trend, you know for a fact that none of these dog had to be shot.

    The officers made a decision based on the urge to want to kill and the knowledge that they can get away with it.
    Like you said, you are allowed to shoot a person but not, "no matter how much you want to", intentially kill them. Because you are not allowed to, not because you dont want to. If you were allowed there would be a lot more dead people at the hands of the police.

    There are no documented cases of a police officer ever being killed by a dog. I havent found any info of dogs even injuring officers. Even if a dog were to try, it would not be able to do much damage to a full grown person. Especially a full grown person, armed with a club, mase and a partner with the same
    Police have been abusing their power since the begining. And yes, social media has become a tool for the victims to share their stories. Thank goodness.

    Please post part 2 but please be a littleore honest. Of not you are doing no one any good.

    1. Abby, did you have a dog, or dogs shot by police?

    2. After reading and watching these videos of police officer's shooting people's beloved family members, yes, I did say family members because that is the way these people felt about their pets. I was so appalled when I watched a video the other day where the police surprised a family while they were asleep, broke open the front door and one police man walked straight into the second room and shot their dogs while they were in crates which is where they stayed every night, and they did it in front of the families children! There has to be new laws created to protect these beloved family members, especially when it comes to what police officers are allowed to do when it comes to family pets. There was one story on facebook the other day about a police officer shooting a woman's 16 lb. dachshund, I mean for real how scared was this police officer?

  4. It seems that in regard to raids that even if there has been advanced information known about the occupants that some very reckless behavior has been occurring on a regular basis. When LEOs bust into a home and just start shooting animals where infants, children, etc., reside that poses a whole other concern. I am all for getting drugs off the street but a lot of these raids are yielding a small amount of marijuana or nothing but yet these animals are getting shot ~ I don't think these situations pose the same threat as the more serious drugs do and I firmly believe that the officers really do have knowledge about what the occupants are using/doing before they bust in there. Not only that, there have been many wrong house raids where things have gone terribly wrong. Things like this are totally unacceptable. Thank you for writing this...

  5. For those commenting...yes, I am very aware of the cases out there that have been appearing almost daily. That is why I begin this article as I do, because it is almost daily that I get another case reported. I am directly involved in a number of cases. And if you read the post you can see that I am not looking to justify anyone-I am, as I do in fatal attacks and other issues, looking for 2 things: 1) what really happened, and 2) how we can prevent these from occuring in the future. I do my best to do this objectively, and instead of just criticizing I try and present positive alternatives and suggestions. In the use of force I feel we need to examine each case after a complete investigation, and then view the actions of the involved shooters as to whether their actions were both lawful and reasonable. Keep reading the further installments to get my full opinion. Jim Crosby

  6. I appreciate this article as an honest attempt to address the problem of police killing dogs, however, I find it problematic that he throws all drug-related incidents into the highest risk category. This fits into the "War on Drugs" hysteria, but I think that the police should start differentiating between violent, big-time hard-drug dealers and the smaller operations instead of lumping them all into one category.

  7. Thank you for a professional's opinion. I am sure that police do get routinely bitten by dogs, but have you ever heard of an officer killed in the line of duty by a dog?

  8. Rin: The answer to that question is no. I have no record of a fatailty from a dog attack to a police officer.

    And for fighting the "War on Drugs": I have my own concerns there. Here, when I lump drugs in with violent crimes I am referring not to the the guy with three marijuana cigarettes in the ashtray. I am referring to the typical tactical "raid" these days which is usually meth or crack cocaine. The distributors of these substances have become much more violent over the years. I worked drugs when even a dealer with a large amount of powdered cocaine was relatively unlikely to resist violently-it was just business. My job to catch them, their job to evade me. Now these folks are willing to fight and die over $100.00 worth of product, and/or are unstable due to drug use, so are too often unpredictable. And remember-I mention the need for intelligence. Look first is always a good policy. Running in anywhere guns blazing and eyes/mind closed will always get you hurt-and have usually tragic consequences. Policy and planning needs to take in all factors, including the type of offence, the history of the likely offenders, and the options available to officers. Again, the idea is to get everyone, officer, suspect, or animal, out safely and uninjured.

  9. Thank you for this article, and I also look forward to the next installments.
    It's such a difficult problem - it's not realistic to expect police officers to be experts in animal behavior. And we don't want officers second guessing themselves in potentially dangerous situations. But the risk of injury to bystanders alone should make departments more strict about investigating animal shootings, and should make them more willing to provide more education to the officers.

  10. POST 1 OF 3

    I would like to begin by saying that two of my dogs were shot and killed by a LEO, and I did not get the impression that anyone was favored in this article.

    As a matter of fact it is starting from an objective and scientific approach which I can really appreciate because that is what will promote change.

    Don't misunderstand, I am not heartless. My life was literally destroyed in every way that day, and I hardly recognize my life anymore. I didn't get out of bed for 1 month following their deaths, and 10 months later I still cry every day.

    That being said, I also think like a researcher and can see the validity behind Jim’s approach. I also know that the responsible authorities who have the power to influence change will accept nothing less.

    Rather than down playing the realities of the incidents, Jim is giving a worse case, justified scenario (from a LEO point of view) and attempting to provide a solution. I for one am very grateful for Jim’s willingness to join our cause and address this issue.

  11. POST 2 OF 3

    There was absolutely nothing dishonest about this article. Two scenarios were presented here and I will review one:

    (1) SCENERIO #1: A high-risk, uninformed, fast-pasted, and unprepared scenario. Police are human beings, in this sort of environment adrenaline is through the roof, you have to be in survival mode because your life is at risk (doesn't matter if it's the dog, people, etc.) and everything happens in a matter of 2 minutes. In addition, they aren't trained on how to handle the dog, and didn't expect it. Might you shoot the dog if it was potentially interfering with your ability to protect yourself from some crack heads with guns or would you just allow yourself to get shot? (No, this is not what we are normally seeing and that's the point)

    (2) SOLUTION TO #1: Implement training on how to handle dogs in these situations, and include the possibility of an encounter during the planning phase. There is at least a 50% chance that a dog or dogs will be present during a raid. Also, follow proper procedures to validate intelligence so that the assessment of the environment is as accurate as possible.

    Jim, 2 things did stand out to me in the article after a second reading. The first is that Raids seem to be the easiest of all to resolve due to the gift of time. Because there is plenty of notice before deployment, I don’t see a reason not to take an ACO along every time. The chance is that a dog will be present more often than not. I will save the 2nd for later because this post is way too long.

  12. POST 3 OF 3

    Bottom line, in order for change to take root someone has to be willing to cross over to the other side. Police Officer's already have their defenses up, and attacking them will only make those defenses grow stronger.

    In addition, generalizing and making sweeping statements about ALL police officers is a very disrespectful and an inaccurate approach/perspective/attitude.

    Who knows the total number of full-time sworn law enforcement officers in the United States? Who bothered to look? Well I did, and there are over 738,000 full-time sworn law enforcement officers in the US. (Merrick Bobb, Civilian Oversight of the Police in the US)

    If I TRIPLE the number of dog shootings reported in 2012 that still only represents LESS than 0.01% of all Law Enforcement Officers in the US.

    Is 1+ shooting of a dog per day a lot, and extreme? In my opinion, absolutely. But that doesn't justify making unfounded judgments of ALL Police Officers. Nor does it make anyone want to do you any favors.

    We want change, and we want solutions which means being respectful even when you may not see eye-to-eye. If venting your emotions is more important than dialogue, then you are only contributing to the problem.

    If I can do it, then I hope that others will respectfully follow suit. I refuse to let the death of my babies, and the death of all the others to be for nothing. And I hope that as a result of us working together that someday WE ALL will be safe and can stop living in fear. Yes that includes the cops, they get scared too.

    1. Kristin I wish there was a "like" button here... You are so right that emotional attacks are NOT the way to fix this problem. I respect your logical way of dealing with what I can imagine was a devastating tragedy. My sincere condolences, and I only hope I would react as well if one or more of my dogs were ever shot...

  13. I just read this: "Osorio, a former cop, tells them there are dogs in about one in three households — nearly 80 million in all. He says officers shoot about 250,000 dogs a year... often needlessly." If this is true then we really do have a serious situation in this country.

    I am hoping the number of killings is off by three decimal points. I've seen other reports of one dog a day. That's still way too many.

    The other problem, from the reports I have been following, is that the police officers are not respecting the property of citizens. They enter gated yards without warning and leave gates open for dogs to get out.

    Where I live the police regularly pass through our area looking for suspects or lost people. I've had my gate left open several times now allowing my dogs to get loose.

    I've been extremely fortunate that my current dogs are 17 and 19 so they don't go far but I'm going to be getting a younger dog.

    I'm going to have to padlock all 4 entrances to my yard to protect my younger dog. I think that should be unnecessary and it actually puts us at risk in case of a fire.

    Citizens shouldn't have to put themselves at risk to protect their pets. A recent example of that is the guy who was shot by an officer because he got in between his dog and the officer who was aiming at his dog. This happened inside the man's house as he was trying to put up the dog.

    One of the best ways, I can think of, to stop this needless killing, is to advise police departments to encourage each command to acquire a canine mascot. A pit bull-type dog would be the best choice so officers could learn first hand how great these dogs can be.

    If each officer was assigned days to care for the dog officers would become familiar with dogs and their body language. They would also learn about the deep bonds humans form with their pets.

    Ultimately, your final recommendation will include education. It isn't just the police who need to be educated we also need to educate the public and the police should be in charge of that.

    News articles in newspapers, on TV and radio should state departmental guidelines for police-dog interactions. It should also give tips on how to prevent an officer-dog encounter.

    For example, I have a gate between the area the dogs are in and my front door. Dogs can also be trained to sit or lay down and stay when someone comes to the door or the door is opened.

    Obviously we have to lock our gates, which is going to make it harder for the police to catch criminals, but until the police start showing respect for gates then we don't have much choice.

    Putting a bandanna around a dog's neck makes it much less threatening as do sweaters and coats. Bows in hairs also help. Making your dog look macho is a sure way to get it killed.

    The police are going to have to take steps also, such as announcing on a bull horn that they are searching an area so dogs should be put up. Police are also going to have to respect the right of a dog to protect its property. It is only doing its job like the police.

    So, if an officer jumps the fence into a yard, or puts his dog into a yard, the officer is responsible for making sure neither he, nor his dog, act as guests while on that property.

    In every encounter I've read, to date, the officer shot without using common sense such as getting back in the car until the owner could contain his dog and shooting dogs that are running away from them.

    I would hazard a guess that the majority of Americans consider their pets to be members of the family. Some of the pets are also service animals that have received a high degree of training at considerable cost.

    As a species we have evolved from thinking of pets as mere chattel. We invest a lot of time, money, and love in our pets and the police need to respect that. I will be interested to see the measures you suggest to end this senseless slaughter of the innocents.

  14. I won't pretend to have a calm, rational response to this subject. Instead, I'm going to represent the majority of animal lovers who are shocked, appalled and incredibly sad when any animal is neglected, mistreated, abused or harmed in any way. My gut response is that the majority of these reports of police officers shooting dogs is they are unnecessary and reprehensible. I want all officers to be better trained in how to deal with dogs, in any setting, but especially in their own yards or homes. Most of these dogs are beloved family members, and even in the hands of the bad guys, are only doing what they've been taught to do. They shouldn't have to pay the price for being in the wrong hands. And I want better investigative procedures that do not involve the IA or any other group inside the police department, but an outside council of citizens, which can include a police officer, so there is an unbiased examination and determination of the facts when an officer uses his gun against a dog. I want there to be restitution if the officer is found to have acted irresponsibly or against police procedure. Those are mainly the things that I believe need to happen to prevent these horrible acts of cruelty against dogs.

  15. Hi Jim! I'm Lorena, a fellow VSPDT (congrats, btw!). Thank you for addressing this issue in your blog: with the proliferation of reports of police officers encountering dogs, it's something that I've been giving much thought to. Having been an Army wife, I also understand (somewhat) the situation of high-risk encounters and the pressure responders are under, which can be, as you have said, a situation of life and death. It's very volatile, very difficult, and with little time to really analyze or negotiate.

    So as a professional canine behavior specialist and training insructor, your insights are challenging me to think of what I can teach my clients, what I can include in my training that would help things out.

    I'm not asking for a response with solutions in this forum- there are other more appropriate ones for this type of discussion. Still, I feel a professional responsibility to do what I can to alleviate this risk, both for the safety of police officers, as well as the safety of beloved canine family members.

    I look forward to your other posts concerning this subject as they are giving me some points to consider.

    Thank you for sharing your knowledge, especially from an officer's POV- that is critical information in alleviating this issue.

  16. Dogs police is very useful for public. I appreciate to your post.
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