(ANTIMEDIA) Washington, D.C. — The pervasive problem of cops shooting dogs throughout the United States has been part of the conversation about police brutality for some time. From chihuahuas and pit bulls to cocker spaniels and Labrador retrievers, police officers have developed a reputation for overreacting to family pets with their firearms.
The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) in Washington D.C. is no stranger to these incidents. According to the department’s guidelines for animal complaints, which include “handling dangerous dogs,” when issues arise, officers are expected to work with residents to ensure their pets are secured in an enclosure. If a dog is deemed dangerous, they are directed to use either pepper spray or a baton to subdue them (these guidelines do focus specifically on officer conduct in incidents relating chiefly to dangerous dogs, though the department does not appear to have a separate policy for dogs who are present during other types of police responses).
Regardless of these guidelines, in multiple cases, D.C. police have drawn their guns and fatally wounded pets whose owners say were docile. One woman says that last January during a domestic disturbance call, a police officer shot her nine-year-old pit-bull who had “never harmed a human,” claiming that if police had let her put her pet away (as apparently advised in MPD’s own guidelines), her dog would still be alive.
In a 2010 incident, an MPD officer intervened in a fight between two dogs, throwing the larger dog over a bannister in an antique store and shooting it when it stood back up. Though police claimed the dog was a threat to the officer, the deceased pet’s owner claims his dog was not acting aggressively. Despite the conflicting accounts, the officer appears to have jumped protocol by shooting the dog rather than using pepper spray.
In another 2010 shooting, police arrived at a D.C. resident’s home searching for her grandson over a drug charge. Though they allowed her to put her thirteen-year-old, 60-pound dog in the bathroom, officers then opened the bathroom during their search, firing at and killing him. She eventually sued the city.
Police interactions with dogs are apparently strained enough that the MPD recently sent out a notice to the city’s Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, “neighborhood bod[ies] made up of locally elected representatives,” offering guidelines to residents on how to keep their pets safe.
The advisory was obtained by Petworth News, a local blog focusing on events and developments in the Petworth neighborhood of D.C. It was sent out by Commander Wilfredo Manlapaz of the 4th District, who confirmed the document’s authenticity to Anti-Media.
Though the notice does not specifically focus on protecting pets from police and features general safety tips, four of eight bullet advisories explicitly mention officer interactions. From the notice, titled “MPD Safety Tips for Pet Owners”:
- If you know the police are on the way to your home, crate or confine your dog or cat to a room in the house and close the door if safe and practical.
- If the police arrive at your home, alert them to the presence of a dog or cat and ask for a moment or two to crate/confine the dog or cat.
- Keep your doors fully closed and locked so that if someone comes to your front door (either a police officer or someone else), a dog or cat cannot slip out and approach them on their own.
- Have all of your pet’s paperwork together and easily accessible should the police or animal control officers need to see it.
The document’s suggestion makes it clear the responsibility rests with the resident to ensure an officer doesn’t kill their pets (even so, past dog shootings in D.C. show complying with guidelines like these does not necessarily guarantee a pet’s safety). Regardless, the fact that the police department even found it pertinent inform citizens of steps to take to protect their pets demonstrates the severity of the problem, which is not limited to MPD.
At the end of 2016, the federal 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled law enforcement agents are justified in shooting dogs in residents’ homes if they perceive the animals to pose an imminent danger. However, just as officers often claim they fear for their lives to excuse shooting humans, the same applies to pets. Many pet owners around the country claim their dogs were docile and friendly when officers shot them.
The problem has become so pronounced that even a representative from the Department of Justice’s “community-oriented policing office” (DOJ-COPS) has reportedly acknowledged that cops shoot between 25 and 30 dogs per day. On the low end — and assuming those figures are correct — that amounts to over 9,000 dogs per year.
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