There have been two more incidents of cops unnecessarily shooting at dogs in the news recently. The first happened in Cleveland, Miss.
A Cleveland police officer fatally shot a family’s one-year-old yellow labrador dog while it was tied to a leash.
On June 12, Tyler Muzzi returned home after lunch to discover a stranger walking back and forth outside his neighbor’s home. Muzzi saw the man walk up the neighbor’s driveway twice before disappearing around the opposite side of the home. Muzzi alerted the homeowner, Bryant Steele, who then called the Cleveland police.
The police arrived at Steele’s home within minutes and arrested the man, who had entered his house but exited to give himself up to police.
Assuming that police were finished with the scene, Muzzi said he was surprised to hear gunshots later . . .
An officer told Muzzi that his yellow labrador was shot and that he needed to check on the dog. Muzzi rushed to his backyard to find his dog, Miller, injured, while the officers and the investigator who shot the dog looked on silently, he said. The dog had been tied to a leash before the police arrived on scene.
Here’s the incredible part:
Muzzi said the police officer who shot the dog apologized to Muzzi and told him that he felt threatened and didn’t see the leash, but later on, Cleveland Police Chief Charles Bingham told Muzzi and his wife Bethany that the investigator saw the leash but had the right to shoot the dog since he felt threatened.
So first, the cop reportedly lied about the leash. Then, the chief says that even if the dog is on a leash, in its own yard, a cop had “the right” to shoot if he “felt threatened.” In most of these cases, a police officer need only claim to have felt threatened. It doesn’t matter if that fear was completely irrational.
In this case, note that the shooting happened after the suspect had been arrested. So if the cop felt threatened and knew the dog was on a leash, why not just back up to the point where he was out of the dog’s reach? Moreover, this was an 18-month-old yellow Lab. They aren’t exactly known for their viciousness.
But even if you have no sympathy for the dog or its owners, this cops-shooting-dogs trend has another big problem — it’s dangerous for everyone nearby. That brings us to the second story, from Ohio.
A Columbus police officer accidentally wounded a 4-year-old girl in Whitehall on Friday when he fired at a charging dog, police said.
A neighbor and the girl’s uncle identified her as Ava Ellis, who was taken to Nationwide Children’s Hospital, where police said she was in stable condition.
The officer was at a house in the 4100 block of Chandler Drive investigating a hit-and-run case about 3:10 p.m., Columbus police spokeswoman Denise Alex-Bouzounis said.
As the officer was walking from the home to his patrol car, a woman a few houses away called out to him, saying her sister and the girl’s mother, Andrea Ellis, had cut herself.
The officer was at the doorway when a dog charged at him, Alex-Bouzounis said.
The officer fired once, missing the animal but striking the girl in the right leg.
The article points out that the officer wasn’t injured. Which means that even though he missed the dog that was apparently so dangerous that the cop had no choice but to protect his own safety by putting everyone around him at him at risk, the dog still didn’t attack him. Perhaps the sound of the gun scared off the dog. In that case, presumably any loud noise would have done the same thing.
Given that there’s no shortage of actual human beings getting shot by police officers, pointing these stories out can sometimes seem a bit callous. But I think they’re worth noting because they all point to the same problem. In too much of policing today, officer safety has become the highest priority. It trumps the rights and safety of suspects. It trumps the rights and safety of bystanders. It’s so important, in fact, that an officer’s subjective fear of a minor wound from a dog bite is enough to justify using potentially lethal force, in this case at the expense of a 4-year-old girl. And this isn’t the first time. In January, an Iowa cop shot and killed a woman by mistake while trying to kill her dog. Other cops have shot other kids, other bystanders, their partners, their supervisors and even themselves while firing their guns at a dog. That mind-set is then, of course, all the more problematic when it comes to using force against people.
The good news is that many police departments are now training cops on how to better handle the dogs they come into contact with in the course of their jobs. Unfortunately, that training isn’t likely to address the underlying mind-set.