Civilians are now three times more likely to be injured by dogs before cops shoot
WASHINGTON D.C.––Police are increasingly under fire for shooting dogs, especially pit bulls, yet ANIMALS 24-7 analysis of 982 police shootings of dogs since 2005 shows that police are hesitating now more than ever before pulling the trigger when dogs charge––and still shooting more dogs.
The biggest difference in police response between now and in 2005 is that now far more police and civilians are injured before the first shots are fired.
Overall, dogs––again especially pit bulls––are injuring people and other animals about four times as often as a decade ago.
(See Dog attack deaths & maimings, U.S. & Canada, 1982-2016, 91% of dog attack disfigurement victims in 2016 were mauled by pit bulls, Record 32,550 pit bulls killed or badly injured other animals in the U.S. in 2016, and Pit bull crime doubled in 2016.)
Cops slower to pull the trigger
Despite soaring dog attack deaths and fatalities, police have become relatively hesitant to pull the trigger, apparently intimidated by public criticism and six-figure payouts in some of the handful of cop-shot-dog cases found unjustified by courts of law.
In consequence, civilians are three times more likely than a decade ago to be injured by dogs before police shoot the dogs, and police themselves are more than twice as likely to be hurt before they shoot.
Counting injuries to police canine officers, police casualties from dog attacks are up twelvefold in 10 years.
2005-2006 compared to 2015-2017
ANIMALS 24-7 began logging instances of police shooting dogs on January 1, 2005. During the next two years police shot 72 dogs in logged cases: three cases per month. Civilians had already been injured by the dogs in eight of those cases: one in nine. Police officers or animal control officers were injured before the dogs were shot in six cases: one in 12.
In 2015-2016 and the first five months of 2017, ANIMALS 24-7 has logged 377 cases of police shooting dogs: 13 per month. Civilians had already been injured by the dogs in 129 cases: about one in three, triple the rate of injury from before police opened fire in 2005-2006.
Police or animal control officers were injured before the dogs were shot in 64 cases: one in six, twice the rate of injury from before police opened fire in 2005-2006.
The only police canine officer injured in a case in which police shot dogs in 2005-2006 was an accidental casualty of friendly fire. In 2015-2016 and the first five months of 2017 at least 13 police canine officers have been killed or injured by dogs whom police subsequently shot.
Pit bulls are 83% of dogs shot by cops
Only one statistic pertaining to police shooting dogs has not markedly changed since 2005-2006: of 281 dogs shot by police in 2005-2006, 216 were pit bulls: 87%.
Of 175 dogs shot by police in 2013, at the time a record number, 152 were pit bulls: 87%.
Of 149 dogs shot by police in 2014, 119 were pit bulls: 80%.
Of the 377 dogs shot by police in 2015-2016 and the first five months of 2017, 325 were pit bulls: 86%.
Altogether, 812 of the 982 dogs shot by police in cases of which ANIMALS 24-7 has documentation were pit bulls: 83%.
Consistent with those numbers, of the 13 police canine officers injured by dogs whom police subsequently shot, 11 were pit bulls: 85%.
Cops shoot 10,000 dogs/year?
The accelerating toll of civilian and police injuries before police shoot rampaging dogs coincides with an explosion of activism against dog shootings by police, including an oft-amplified allegation typically attributed to the U.S. Department of Justice that police are shooting as many as 10,000 dogs per year.
This claim appears to trace back to a guesstimate that police may shoot as many as 25 dogs a day, included in both a 2010 publication by the American SPCA and a 2011 paper funded by the pro-pit bull National Canine Research Council, a wholly owned subsidiary of the pit bull advocacy front Animal Farm Foundation.
Authors of claim flunked math
The 2011 paper, “The Problem of Dog-Related Incidents and Encounters,” was issued as a police training guide by the Office of Community Oriented Policing, within the U.S. Department of Justice, but the U.S. Department of Justice itself does not appear to have had any part in producing the 10,000-dogs-per-shot claim––or in verifying the dubious math behind it: 25 dogs shot per day multiplied by 365 days in a year would be “only” 9,125 dogs, still over than 50 times more than can be verified from other sources.
Even more egregiously failing to verify the math, Humane Society of the U.S. president Wayne Pacelle on May 23, 2017 blogged “that is one dog every hour of every day,” in which case the total of dogs shot by police would be 8,760 per year, not 10,000.
Actual toll probably less than 2,800
The actual total, however, appears to be less than a third as high.
Data from New York City, Los Angeles, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where court cases have repeatedly resulted from police shooting dogs, shows that among these cities, with a combined human population of 13.1 million, the highest total number of shootings in any given year since 2000 was 115.
If police throughout the U.S. shot dogs at the same cumulative rate, the annual toll would be about 2,800, of which ANIMALS 24-7 would receive documentation of about 5%-10% in any given year.
1994 Ninth Circuit appellate verdict
High-profile court cases inhibiting police from shooting dogs appear to have begun with a 1994 ruling by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco that killing a pet without urgent necessity violates the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protecting citizens against unreasonable search and seizure.
The 1994 verdict, reaffirmed by the same court in 1998, resulted from a 1991 incident in which police officers in Richmond, California, shot a dog belonging to the James Fuller family while chasing a burglary suspect through the Fullers’ yard. The suspect had no relationship to the Fullers, who were eventually paid $525,000 in settlement by the city of Richmond.
While the Fuller case was in progress, seven San Jose police officers and a Santa Clara County sheriff’s deputy in January 1998 shot a Rottweiler and two other dogs while raiding two homes occupied by seven members of the Hell’s Angels motorcycle club, in search of evidence pertaining to a 1997 murder.
No evidence relevant to the murder was found. The Hell’s Angel accused in the case was acquitted when a jury found that the killing occurred in self-defense. The Hell’s Angels sued the city of San Jose and Santa Clara County over the dog shootings.
Second 9th Circuit verdict
The Ninth U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in April 2005 that when possible, law enforcement officers have a duty to consider alternatives to shooting dogs. Though the investigators “had a week to consider the options and tactics available for an encounter with the dogs,” the verdict pointed out, they “failed to develop a realistic plan for incapacitating the dogs other than shooting them.”
The U.S. Supreme Court in December 2005 declined to revisit the ruling. Santa Clara County eventually paid $990,000 to settle that case, reportedly including $535,000 in attorney’s fees.
The Cookeville case
The best-remembered case against police shooting a dog, however, originated when police in Cookeville, Tennessee, on the evening of January 1, 2003 stopped a car driven by North Carolina resident James Smoak, after having been notified through a combination of eyewitness and dispatcher errors that Smoak was a robbery suspect. In fact no robbery had occurred.
Smoak, his wife, and their 17-year-old son were ordered out of the car, handcuffed, and held at gunpoint. As Smoak tried to warn police that a dog was also in the car, and that the door should be closed, the dog––a pit bull––leaped from the car and charged Cookeville police officer Eric Hall. Hall shot the pit bull at close range.
Police dashboard video of the incident showed that the pit bull was wagging his tail, causing many viewers to mistakenly conclude that the approach was friendly. In truth, countless videos of pit bull attacks demonstrate that the pit bulls are almost always wagging their tails throughout a mauling.
In the Smoak case, however, because the police had no probable cause to detain the family in the first place, because James Smoak had tried to warn the police that the dog might escape, and because there was evidence that excessive use of force had caused Smoak to suffer knee injuries, a federal court jury in 2008 awarded the family $9,000 in compensatory damages and $192,000 in attorney’s fees. In addition the Smoaks received $77,500 from the City of Cookeville in settlement of a separate lawsuit.
$1.26 million jury award
Frequent high damage awards in cases of police shooting dogs have followed in cases where the shootings have been shown to have resulted from incidents involving other alleged violations of the plaintiffs’ rights.
On May 14, 2017, for instance, an Anne Arundel County, Maryland jury recommended a record award of $1.26 million to Timothy Reeves and family, of Glen Burnie, after police officer Rodney Price shot their Chesapeake Bay retriever Vern while investigating a burglary near their home on February 1, 2014.
A police internal investigation exonerated Price, finding that the Chesapeake Bay retriever had behaved aggressively, but “The jury found that the officer was not attacked by the dog, and that the shooting violated Vern’s owner’s constitutional rights and was committed with gross negligence, “ wrote Annapolis Capital Gazette reporter Raphael Pacella.
Other high awards
San Diego County in January 2017 agreed to pay Roger Bush, Jason Bush and Pietra McCotter of San Marcos, California $225,000 for a warrantless search of their premises in response to a neighbor’s call about pit bulls allegedly running loose on May 26, 2014. Three pit bulls were not found at large, but ran outside when Roger Bush opened a sliding glass door, according to court filings. Deputy Gerardo Perez shot one of the pit bulls who ran alongside him.
In March 2017 the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Committee on Fiscal Affairs agreed to pay $199,000 in settlement of a lawsuit alleging that police used excessive force in a 2009 incident in which five officers entered a home and shot a pit bull after mistaking three of the residents for potential burglars. Las Vegas police general counsel Liesl Freedman told the city council that the settlement did not include any admission of police wrongdoing.
More typical settlements
More typical settlement amounts appear to be the $40,000 paid by the Michigan Department of Corrections for a 2014 incident in which an agent shot a pit bull while searching for a fugitive at the wrong house, and the $35,000 paid by the city of Filer, Idaho, after a police officer shot one of several Labrador retrievers he encountered running at large, also in 2014.
The officer in that case “was determined to have been justified in shooting the dog because he feared for his safety,” reported Katy Moeller of the Boise Idaho Statesman. But the police investigation of the shooting criticized the officer because he “had prior information that the dogs might be aggressive and his failure to develop or consider any realistic non-lethal plan for dealing with the dogs was not reasonable.”
Police training in dog behavior
The Smoak case and the Idaho case were among many in which either settlement of a lawsuit or legislation adopted after a high-profile shooting of a dog by police led to the introduction of a police training in dog behavior.
Meant to reduce shootings by improving the ability to recognize what a dog might do, such programs have been credited with cutting dog shootings in Milwaukee from an average of 48 per year in 2000-2008 to just 28 by 2012.
“The National Sheriffs’ Association is working on the issue with the Humane Society of the U.S.,” recently blogged HSUS president Pacelle, touting a seminar he said was attended by 550 law enforcement officers in Oklahoma.
But the ANIMALS 24-7 data indicates that the training programs are so far accomplishing much more to protect pit bulls who charge police, or are already in the act of mauling civilians when police arrive, than to make anyone except pit bulls safer.
“Per capita, Detroit is among the highest ranked cities in America when it comes to police shooting dogs in the line of duty, which has cost taxpayers thousands of dollars in lawsuits,” alleged Kevin Dietz and Derick Hutchinson of WDIV-Detroit on March 27, 2017, though no actual comparative data on police shooting dogs exists for most cities. “Most of the shootings happen during drug raids.”
Attorney Chris Oleson “said his lawsuits have uncovered a lack of training when it comes to alternatives to shooting dogs. He said one Detroit police officer has killed 69 dogs,” reported Dietz and Hutchinson.
Detroit assistant police chief James White, however, explained to Dietz and Hutchinson that the police officer in question is a longtime point man on drug raids.
“First in the door”
“First in the door, and the shotgun man on those raids, so the first to encounter the animal,” said White, of situations in which armed and cornered suspects can usually be presumed ready to open fire with their own weapons if police allow themselves to be distracted by aggressive dog behavior.
The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati in December 2016 appeared to grasp that reality, upholding the U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids, Michigan in dismissing a lawsuit suit brought against the City of Battle Creek, the Battle Creek Police Department and three police officers.
Plaintiffs Mark and Cheryl Brown of Battle Creek argued that the police unreasonably seized their property and violated their constitutional rights by shooting their two pit bulls during an April 2013 drug raid. The Browns were residents of the home that was raided, but were not themselves the subjects of the investigation.
“97-pound pit bull could be dangerous”
Summarized Battle Creek Enquirer reporter Trace Christenson, “The officers said the two dogs were on the couch when officers entered the home. One dog was shot when it lunged at an officer. That dog went to the basement, blocking officers from searching. The first dog was killed. Officers then saw the second dog, who was barking, and it too was killed.”
“In upholding the dismissal,” Christenson continued, “the appeals court noted that many other federal courts have concluded ‘The use of deadly force against a household pet is reasonable only if the pet poses an (imminent) danger and the use of force is unavoidable…A jury could reasonably conclude that a 97-pound pit bull, barking and lunging at the officers as they breached the entryway, posed a threat to the officers’ safety and it was necessary to shoot the dog in order for them to safely sweep the residence and insure there were no other gang members in the residence and that evidence was not being destroyed.”
Two human deaths
As yet, no police officers have been killed by dogs while acting in the line of duty, but two women have been shot dead by police in incidents in which dogs were also shot.
Autumn Mae Steele, 34, was shot accidentally on January 5, 2015 in Burlington, Iowa. Already charged with domestic abuse, Steele became engaged in a further altercation with her estranged husband. A police officer who tried to intervene allegedly felt threatened when the family German shepherd approached, and while trying to shoot the dog, hit Steele in her chest. A resulting lawsuit against the city of Burlington and police officer Jesse Hill remains pending.
Kelsey Rose Hauser, 25, was killed along with her pit bull on January 20, 2016 in El Cajon, California when police fired multiple times at a vehicle driven by multi-state burglary and drug suspect Gregory Sims after Sims allegedly accelerated toward a police officer at the conclusion of a high-speed chase. Sims allegedly rammed two police cars.
Whether the police were aware that Hauser, who was also a multi-state suspected drug offender, the pit bull, and two other suspects were in the vehicle during the chase is unclear. The other two suspects and a second dog were uninjured.
Charged with causing Hauser’s death, Sims, 34, in August 2016 pleaded guilty to felony charges of voluntary manslaughter, resisting an officer using force or violence, and evading an officer with reckless driving.