The shocking video of the Hawthorne, CA Police Department gunning down an innocent man’s Rottweiler, who was doing nothing more than coming to his master Leon Rosby’s aid after he was being falsely detained for obstruction, was arguably the viral-video-of-day for July 2nd, 2013. It was the latest in what seems to be a disturbingly high number of Cop-on-Canine assassinations in the United States which have occurred within the last few years.
Many still remember a surreal video from New York City in the late summer of 2012, in which a small dog, barely 20-inches tall, was shot several times on a crowded street in Manhattan. The dog was merely protecting it’s owner who was lying on the street having a seizure, and by protecting I am literally talking about all bark and no bite. That did not stop two officers on the scene from drawing their weapons and unloading into the small dog without any hesitation, after the animal had approached one of the officers. The fact that those officers truly believed they faced enough “danger” to warrant such a drastic response, and that afterwards the writhing and twitching dog still might have posed enough of a threat to maintain their grandstanding defensive power stance in front of so many horrified witnesses, is really quite pathetic.
Among other examples, last November a Colorado police officer sparked outrage after he was caught on camera shooting to death an aggravated dog at a private residence, but only after it had already been RESTRAINED with a catch pole. Earlier this year in February, a police officer in Sandusky, OH was caught on his patrol car’s dashboard camera shooting a large barking dog outside a private residence. The dog was completely motionless and well over 10 feet away at the time a single round was fired. In Adams County, CO this January, police shot and killed a mans dog after they responded to the wrong address, telling the distraught owner at the scene “you need to calm down sir, you can get a new dog“. As if a heartless response like that isn’t terrible enough, this last one surely takes the cake. In 2009, a police officer who shot a family dog gave this as a reason to justify his actions, “it was barking at me“.
Just what exactly is making a growing number of police officers across the country either so high-strung or jaded that they think the only appropriate course of action, in the midst of their unpredictable work, is to prematurely end the life of a higher mammal? A higher mammal which in just about all of these recent events caught on camera were, let’s be honest, posing very little threat to anyone’s safety? I can only start to brainstorm.
Is life as an urban police officer in the gun-loving United States simply that much more dangerous than any other western nation? Enough to the point that the stress and edginess of field work can cloud good judgment? Does instinct tell them that anything with four limbs and is making sudden movements an imminent threat? Like a human being brandishing a firearm for example? After all, every United States citizen is supposed to be treated as a ‘potential terrorist’ now, and during the moment of truth there seems to be an inability for certain officers to rationally separate the two vastly different scenarios they could face, that of a human threat versus a perceived canine “threat”.
Or perhaps it is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and military machismo being transferred to an authoritative civilian job. A great deal of military veterans desire to become policemen, and military.com even reinforces the notion that ex-servicemen make great police officers. “Former military personnel hold a special place in the heart of police department recruiters across the U.S. The qualities of a great police officer are virtually identical to those of a great soldier: Both have a desire to serve their country and community and protect people and their rights.” I cannot fathom how exactly the U.S. military “protects people and their rights”, but unfortunately if a number of these dog killers are indeed veterans, they seem to be bringing their foreign battlefield mentality right into the heart of urban America. Like a soldier at a roadside checkpoint in Iraq or Afghanistan, the mantra for dealing with an out-of-control dog (in lieu of a vehicle) is more or less “if it keeps coming toward you, shoot now and ask questions later”.
And finally, what about the perceived danger of bites, and especially the risk for contracting a hideous disease like Rabies as a result? Even if one of these dogs just gives one of these officers a nip they could catch Rabies right? Enough to warrant their deadly shooting response? The risk of contracting rabies in the United States from domesticated animals is actually very, very low. In most first world countries, animal control and vaccination programs have effectively eliminated domestic dogs as reservoirs of rabies, and the United States is no exception.
OK, but the dog can still bite am I correct? Should a police officer have the ability to put down a dog if they have reasonable suspicion that just a possible dog bite of any size and capacity justifies discharging their firearm? Why not utilize some other less lethal options that are at their disposal such as a taser or pepper spray? Domesticated and trained animals in the United States rarely bite, and we should know that it is completely natural in dog behavior to bark loudly and sometimes even run up to and jump towards strangers, without ever biting or causing any kind of injury requiring medical treatment.
The extent of dog deaths at the hands of police is quite unsettling. According to an ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) review of public records, roughly half of all firearm discharges by police officers involve shooting a canine. Furthermore, it states that police rarely receive any training whatsoever that would allow them to quickly and realistically assess the level of danger posed by a dog, and that current policies only require that an officer “feel” threatened by a canine before justifying a lethal response. In other words, the threshold for an officer to have the legal right to execute a dog, and not expect any disciplinary action, is quite low.
In closing, there may or may not be any kind of problematic increase of these killings at all, perhaps it is just due to technological advances with smartphones and dashboard cameras allowing us to keep a closer eye on the police, and keeping a greater number of their transgressions (when do they do occur) on file as a result. Nonetheless, the people are becoming well aware of what the police are up to when a recording device is pointed in their direction, and with animal welfare held in fairly low regard in the eyes of many police officers out there, the citizens are starting to get quite disgusted with what they are seeing at greater frequency.
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