In Cleburne, Texas, a city near Dallas with a population of roughly 30,000, a police officer responded to a 911 call from motorists stuck in a car on a residential street. They reported three snarling dogs were preventing them from getting out.
Once on the scene, a friendly looking pit bull ran up to the police officer with its tail wagging. The dog was secured. "The officer was attempting to secure the other dogs until animal control arrived when one dog became aggressive," the City of Cleburne said in a statement about what happened next. The Cleburne Times Review quotes a short passage from a police report filed by the officer: "An officer was called out to an aggressive dog call in the 1500 block of Lindsey. The dog was later located in an alleyway. The dog was shot when it charged the officer.”
The dog was shot when it charged the officer.
That sounds defensible. Until recently few would've questioned the police officer's version of events. After all, there are dangerous dogs out there and instances when police are justified in using lethal force to protect themselves from bared teeth and a strong jaw. But this police officer was outfitted with a body camera, and the owners of the dog requested the video from the police department. Be warned that the video is difficult to watch. Here is what happened:
Additional context and an even clearer version of the video is included in this local news report:
The video caused the uproar you'd expect in North Texas. "The City is obviously concerned about the video showing an officer shooting a dog," officials said in a statement responding to the outcry. "As is often the case, the short video does not tell the whole story." That's true. But the video does show that the official version of events set down before the video's release was inaccurate. And police reports aside, it is hard to conceive of any precipitating event that would justify what's in the video. The police officer needlessly approaches and whistles to the dog before shooting.
The police officer is entitled to the presumption of innocence and a robust defense if charged with animal cruelty. But does anyone doubt that if a Cleburne police officer's pet dog was loose and got shot to death by a neighbor, the emergence of a video just like this one would lead to that neighbor's immediate arrest?
This is but the latest in an epidemic of police officers shooting dogs. If you're new to this under-covered subject, prepare to be shocked. If I told you that police officers shoot 50 dogs a year, would you think that's high or low? What if I told you that's the figure for metro Atlanta? I last wrote about a case in Idaho, and cited the definitive work of Radley Balko, who has been tracking cases like this for years. If you want to get very angry or very sad, scroll through the puppycide subreddit.
Beyond being a problem worth addressing itself, mistreatment of dogs by police calls in question whether these same officers have abused people while on duty. As Cleburne police investigate the dog-killing incident in the video above they ought to go back and review every possible instance when the officer in question has used force.
They almost certainly won't.