Police and deadly force: enough is enough

Over the course of the last year, I’ve noticed a monumental increase in incidents involving police using deadly force against dogs. While I know this is not a new phenomenon, and perhaps these stories are just being picked up more by the media, a recent event highlights the dangers these incidents expose a community to. Hopefully, this latest brazen and incredibly unnecessary use of deadly force against a dog will help in bringing much needed scrutiny to police department training and procedures.

On Saturday, November 24, 2012, police and an animal control officer were dispatched to a neighborhood in Commerce City, Colorado in response to a call about an unfamiliar dog loose in the neighborhood. Unbeknownst to the man who made the call, his neighbors were dog sitting, and the dog had somehow got out of the house. A home video was taken by the man who made the call to the police.  The video shows the police and animal control officer discussing the matter for several minutes, and then entering the garage where the dog retreated.  The dog was tased by police, and then once contained by the animal control officer’s catch pole, the dog was shot multiple times by one of the police officers. At no time, either before or after the shooting, did the dog display any aggressive behavior, and at the time of the shooting, the dog was contained and was not a threat to anyone.

 

In a press release issued by the Commerce City Police Department regarding the shooting, the police chief stated:

“An animal control agent was able to place a “catch pole” around the dog’s neck, but, due to the dog’s size and aggressive behavior, she had not attained control of the dog. For the safety of the community and the officers on scene, the officer fired his weapon multiple times to put down the dog and ensure the safety of everyone.”

A review of various policies regarding the use of deadly force by police officers reveals that the use of a firearm is never to be considered routine, and that deadly force is only permissible in defense of life, and even then, it is to be used only when all other means have been exhausted.  The video clearly demonstrates that the dog in question was contained by the animal control officer and, as such, was not an imminent threat to anyone, and the use of deadly force was not warranted.

The video has more disturbing implications as it calls into question the critical thinking and decision making ability of the police officer at issue. The actions of the officer put the life of everyone near the scene of the incident in immediate, life-threatening danger.  Officers are taught not to shoot downward at concrete due to the ricochet of bullets off the hard surface. In fact, at least one stray bullet hit the animal control officer’s car with neighbors and children all around.

Despite the fact that all the members of the Commerce City police department received mandatory training with respect to handling dog issues in response to a previous police shooting, for at least one officer, that training was not effective. The only ray of hope in the press release issued by the Police Department is the acknowledgment that the home video is disturbing, and the police chief has ordered a full investigation of the incident that is already underway.

The Commerce City Council holds its next regular meeting on Monday, December 3, 2012 at 6:30 p.m. I hope residents use this opportunity to let their officials know that the actions of this police officer were unacceptable, and encourage their officials to thoroughly investigate this matter and hold the officer accountable for his actions. Upon a thorough review, it will be clear that deadly force was not necessary in this instance and, quite frankly, the officer’s reaction to the situation should put real doubt in their minds about his ability to perform a job which requires critical thinking skills in order to maintain the safety of the community.

According to the Commerce City police department’s website:

“A proper relationship between the citizens of a community and its police, founded on confidence and trust, is essential to effective law enforcement.”

The actions of this officer can only serve to tarnish that essential confidence and trust residents must have with the police department, especially if the officer is not reprimanded or removed from the force.

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