Lily the border collie was shot and killed May 26 by a Fort Worth, Texas police officer. It happened during an investigation for copper theft. The officer involved went to the wrong house. Instead of suing, Lily’s owners, Mark and Cindy Boling, asked that Fort Worth police get training for how to handle dog encounters.
Dog encounters are a regular part of any cop’s job. But few police departments offer training on how to interact with them–read their body language, appease them and handle them using tools other than bullets.
Nationwide, police shoot about 250,000 dogs a year… often needlessly. In Fort Worth, officers responded to 849 calls of citizens hurt by dogs during a three-year period from 2009 through 2011. Of those calls, 86 involved children who were hospitalized, including one death. Also during the three-year period, 49 officers were bitten so badly that they had to file workman’s compensation claims. Apparently, the only message the department took from all this was that all dogs are dangerous. An absurd supposition. But there is no other explanation for why the officer shot Lily whose owner was standing nearby and telling the cop that the small dog was no danger to him.
Part of the reason for cops’ irrationality in such situations goes back to the us versus them mentality that has taken root in much of the police profession. A mindset that goes well beyond shooting the family pet. The solutions to that problem are quite a bit more complicated than the solution to the dog-shooting problem. Some cops kill dogs simply because they can.
Instances of dog shootings are making news with increasing frequency. And with just a few exceptions, the cop involved had no training before the shooting, and faced no real consequences after. The message that sends from the police department to the community is that a cop shooting a pet is simply part of policing.
Even aggressive dogs can be calmed down by officers—if they have training. Being a cop is a dangerous business. And training is necessary for all manner of things. Dealing with people with mental health problems is an increasing focus for many departments around the country. Officers are being taught there are ways to calm and subdue people exhibiting irrational behavior other than firing a lethal weapon. There’s no reason the same type of training shouldn’t be required in dealing with dogs. There are many alternatives to shooting: using tasers, flashlights and batons; distractions such as tennis balls and doggie treats; or devices like control poles and chemical agents. The U.S. Postal Service gives all of its workers dog training, and reports very few incidents.
Without training, cops who fears dogs will continue to fear them, to interpret benign gestures as a threat and continue to shoot dogs and be excused for it. With training, an officer gets over his fear, or at least learns how to deal with.
Without training, sadistic or power-tripping cops can continue to kill dogs for whatever reason, continue to falsely claim they feared for their safety and continue to get away with it. With training, there’s some accountability.
Training and accountability can make a difference.
The officer who killed Lilly has been reprimanded, but kept his job.