Surging use of pit bulls as offensive weapons
WASHINGTON D.C.––Violent crime involving dogs approximately doubled in 2016, almost all of it involving pit bulls, according to the best available data.
Rarely reported before 2013, known arrests of perpetrators who used pit bulls as adjuncts to armed robbery, rape, kidnapping, and murder, exclusive of manslaughter and murder by criminal negligence cases involving dogs who escaped from the perpetrator’s control, have increased over the past four years from 10 to 28, compared to just nine in the entire time frame from 2005 through 2012.
Many victims per perp
Since each perpetrator is believed to have had multiple victims before getting caught, the actual number of crimes committed with the aid of pit bulls may be many times higher than the numbers of arrests.
While the occasional use of pit bulls as offensive weapons has been documented since the early 19th century, the relative inconvenience of using a dog in the commission of crimes most often involving use of guns, knives, or blunt instruments ensures that this is never likely to become a major crime category.
But the surge distantly parallels the rapid rise in recent years of pit bull attack disfigurements, which doubled from 2012 to 2013, topping 400 for the first time, and approached 600 for the first time in 2016, with late reports still coming in.
(ANIMALS 24-7 will publish our complete 2016 dog attack data, first the data pertaining to human victims and then the data pertaining to animals, within the next few days.)
Guarding the stash
Pit bull attacks on adults first outnumbered attacks on children in 2011, and have more than tripled since then, while attacks on children doubled in 2013, then leveled off.
Dog-related crime has historically centered on the traditional use of dogs to guard people and property. Pit bull proliferation over the past four decades has been linked by sociologists and criminologists to the introduction of pit bulls to guard illegal marijuana plantations in California, a use first brought to widespread public notice in 1987 when two-year-old James Soto, of Morgan Hill, California, was fatally mauled by neighbor Michael Berry’s pit bull amid about 200 marijuana plants.
No system exists yet to track use of dogs to guard drug-related activity and other criminal enterprises in cases in which no one is killed or injured and police are not obliged to shoot dogs in self-defense during raids. ANIMALS 24-7, however, has long tracked cases in which police shoot dogs.
Police shooting dogs
From 2005 through 2012, police in reported cases shot 216 pit bulls, 28 Rottweilers, and 37 other dogs. Police shootings of dogs surged in 2013 along with total attacks, to 176, including 152 pit bulls, four Rottweilers, and 19 other dogs.
This is just a fraction of the 10,000 shootings of dogs by police alleged to occur by No Kill Advocacy Center founder Nathan Winograd, but no other source puts the number nearly so high. Of 636 shootings of dogs by law enforcement claimed on one online petition circulated in 2013, ANIMALS 24-7 was able to confirm 173 from media accounts (27%). Of 210 shootings of dogs by law enforcement claimed on another online petition circulated in 2013, ANIMALS 24-7 confirmed 33 from media reports (16%).
Following the flurry of petitions and several high-profile lawsuits resulting from cases in which police allegedly shot dogs unnecessarily, the numbers of verifiable cases fell off to 149 in 2014, 119 of them involving pit bulls, and 145 in 2015, including 123 cases involving pit bulls.
Why police shoot dogs
But police shootings of dogs in verifiable cases soared to 167 in 2016, including 142 shootings of pit bulls.
As of the close of 2016, police in verifiable cases since 2005 had shot 904 dogs, 750 of them pit bulls (83%). About a third of the shootings were to protect civilians from attack; about two-thirds were to protect police officers themselves, typically while serving warrants, investigating domestic disturbances, or trying to make arrests.
This pattern held up in 2016, when police shot at least 53 dogs to protect civilians, and 114 to protect themselves or fellow officers.
Dogfighting impoundments doubled
Pit bull impoundments in connection with dogfighting nearly tripled in 2016, from 396 in 2015 to 1,071. More than a third of the alleged fighting dogs impounded, 367 in all, were seized in a July 2016 multi-state bust initiated by local police in Auburn, Alabama.
Pit bulls, illegal drugs, weapons, dogfighting paraphernalia, and more than half a million dollars in cash were confiscated from at least two locations in Alabama, two others in Mississippi, and additional sites in Texas and Georgia. Eleven alleged perpetrators were arrested.
But dogfighting raids & arrests were down
But even without the July 2016 multi-state mega-bust, the biggest since 2009 and the second largest ever, alleged fighting dog impoundments were up 44%––even though, the July 2016 mega-bust included, dogfighting raids executed were down 10% and dogfighting-related arrests were down 20%.
The 86 total dogfighting-related arrests reported in 2016, in cases known to ANIMALS 24-7, were the fewest in any year since 1997 for which ANIMALS 24-7 has a full year’s worth of data. The total number of impoundments was the highest since the three record years of 2007-2009, when a nationwide crackdown on dogfighting followed the April 2007 arrest of football star Michael Vick on dogfighting-related charges.
Pet theft & bestiality
Other dog-related crime categories tracked by ANIMALS 24-7 include pet theft and bestiality. Both pet theft and bestiality were prosecuted approximately as often in 2016 as in 2015.
Pet theft has trended downward for more than 25 years, since amendments to the federal Animal Welfare Act passed by Congress in 1990 and taking effect in 1992 introduced tracking requirements for dogs and cats sold to laboratories which gradually ended the market for random-source dogs and cats. About half of all known pet theft cases in recent years, as over the past 20 years, have involved pit bull thefts believed to be in connection with dogfighting.
Bestiality, the rarest of all prosecuted crimes against animals, was prosecuted 12 times in 2015 in cases involving dogs, and thirteen times in cases involving dogs in 2016. Seven alleged perpetrators were caught with pit bulls in each year.
Dog crime vs. crime overall
Rates of violent crime involving use of dogs are soaring grossly disproportionate to any of the crime categories tracked by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
According to Crime in the United States 2015, the latest edition of Uniform Crime Reporting Program data compiled by the FBI from information submitted by law enforcement agencies throughout the U.S., violent crime overall increased 3.9% in 2014-2015, but has dropped 0.7% since 2011 and 16.5% since 2006.
Firearms were used in 71.5% of reported murders, 40.8% of robberies, and 24.2% of aggravated assaults.