Police Officers Who Shoot Dogs

A journalist is tracking incidents of gratuitous pet deaths around the country.
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A police officer in Filer, Idaho explained the incident to a colleague minutes after it happened: "I get out to talk to the people, two dogs come around me, one of them's growling and snarling. I kick it. It comes back around, now it's growling and snarling. I kick it again. Then it lunges at me, I'm like, fuck you. So, I just shot it."

He doesn't sound broken up.

Yes, Officer Tarek Hassani exited his car on a quiet suburban street, kicked a black labrador twice, shot the dog, and left it to die in a snowy driveway. And then?

He issued its angry, upset owner a $100 ticket for having it off-leash. 

If you have a strong stomach, skip to the 13.50 mark in this video to judge his actions for yourself:

Did he have to shoot that dog to prevent himself from getting bitten? I don't think so. The police officer didn't do everything wrong. He promptly notifies a supervisor about what happened, apologizes to dog's owner, and documents everything. But at the very least, he is clueless about how to handle himself around animals.

Based on the video, it seems to me that he kicked one of the dogs before it was snarling. After two kicks, little surprise that the dog barked at him when he angrily stepped onto the property where it lived. The officer had ample opportunity to get back in his car. 

Once there, he could've tried to telephone the people inside the house. He could've knocked on a neighbor's door to ask if they had any experience with the dog. He could've asked another officer to drive over a bag of dog treats. Instead, he determinedly made for the front door, as if there was great urgency in solving this dog-off-its-leash caper, escalating a situation because, ultimately, he just didn't care enough to exert some additional effort to avoid killing a pet. He explains later on the video that he was once bitten by a dog and had to go to the emergency room.

He said he wasn't going to let that happen again.

Training in how to handle dogs would have been appropriate after that first bite, but either didn't happen or wasn't sufficient. This wasn't an officer busting up a dog-fighting ring and getting charged by a trained fighter. This was a territorial pet. A postal carrier would have used non-lethal repellant at most. The policeman used a bullet. 

Journalist Radley Balko has done excellent work on the general phenomenon of police officers shooting dogs, often needlessly. In 2012, he found 100 news reports of such incidents. There are no reliable national numbers documenting the phenomenon. "Sites that include'Dogs That Cops Killed' and the Facebook group 'Dogs Shot by Police' track new incidents and allow grieving owners to share stories," he reported. "The activism site Change.org also now includes calls for action in similar cases, with petitions like 'Justice for Big Boy,' and 'Justice for Bud.'"

He goes on:

In recent years, police officers have shot and killed chihuahuas, miniature dachshunds, Wheaton terriers, and Jack Russell terriers.Last month, a California police officer shot and killed a boxer puppy and pregnant chihuahua, claiming the boxer had threatened him. The chihuahua, he said, got caught in the crossfire. When a San Bernardino, Calif., woman called police to report a burglary in progress behind her house last month, they responded, jumped her fence to confront the burglars, then shot her dalmatian mix, Julio. He survived. Police officers have also recently shot dogs that were chained, tied, or leashed -- obviously posing no real threat to officers who killed them.

Given how often police officers encounter pets, one would think training for handling dogs would be common. An officer untrained in recognizing a dog's body language, for example, could easily mistake a bounding dog from a charging one, a nervous dog from an angry one, or an aggressive dog from one that's merely territorial. Groups like the Humane Society and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals offer free training to police departments, but both organizations said few departments take them up on the offer. New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Seattle are among departments that don't provide regular training to officers on how to respond to dogs.

Contrast that to the U.S. Postal Service, another government organization whose employees regularly come into contact with pets. A Postal Service spokesman said in a 2009 interview that serious dog attacks on mail carriers are extremely rare. That's likely because postal workers are annually shown a two-hour video and given further training on "how to distract dogs with toys, subdue them with voice commands, or, at worst, incapacitate them with Mace."

In the most recent case, some locals are calling for the officer's job. Others are defending him.

There's more coverage here.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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