An estimated 10,000 pet dogs are shot by police officers in the line of duty each year. While officers usually explain the shooting of a pet as ‘self-defense,’ a California law professor argues that there is no requirement of public accountability to test their claims.
A California law professor is calling for more police accountability for the thousands of domestic pets gunned down by law enforcement each year, suggesting that states mandate reporting of these lethal incidents to the FBI.
Accurate data do not exist, but according to Department of Justice estimates, police officers kill an estimated 10,000 pet dogs a year– and not just in self defense. In a forthcoming article for the University of New Hampshire Law Review, Courtney G. Lee of the McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento, Ca., writes that many animals “have been deliberately shot and killed under questionable circumstances, including through doors, or while tied, running away, or hiding.”
The victims are not always big dogs that one can imagine posing a genuine threat.
According to Lee, “police claiming a threat to human safety have shot puppies, Chihuahuas, Miniature Dachshunds, and domestic cats, among others.”
While some police departments have review procedures in place for animal killings, the criteria for determining whether the shooting was justified is overly broad, writes Lee.
Civil complaints are not adequately investigated, and in cases where a suit is filed on Fourth Amendment grounds (where a pet is defined as personal property), the subsequent indemnity evaluation “does not require consideration of any specific criteria regarding behavior signals the animal may have displayed and whether the officer recognized them,” according to Lee.
Echoing criticisms of the “standard of reasonableness” when police shoot civilians, Lee argues that “a general policy to act reasonably, without more, is vague and does little to combat the lack of fundamental respect some officers may show for companion animals.”
Whether the victims are human or nonhuman, “not all police departments track uses of force accurately, regularly, or even at all,” writes Lee. For that reason, record-keeping should be legally mandated by the states, and “require descriptive reporting of all uses of force, including those involving animals, whether officers used their firearms or less lethal equipment like stun guns or pepper spray.”
Lee also makes a case for better police training on how to manage pet encounters, noting that an annual training for meter readers in Chicago led to a 90 percent decrease in dog bite incidents between 1998 and 2006.
Community-based efforts have also made a difference in some areas. After getting slapped with a federal lawsuit for (reportedly) lying about the shooting death of a local Rottweiler named “Bullet,” police in Round Rock, Texas announced a program called Be Aware of Residential K-9s (BARK), in which citizens voluntarily register their animals and receive a bright sticker to display outside of their homes.
While BARK may have improved police relations with the community, Lee points out that in many instances, police have shot animals despite warnings. (Bullet’s owner did have a “beware of Rottweiler” sign in front of his home, according to local media reports.)
In contrast with their treatment of domestic animals, police officers show deep sentimental attachment to their quadruped partners, regularly giving them funerals, memorials, and tearful tributes when they perish in the line of duty.
The penalties for harming a police dog, or horse, are also considerably harsher. While state legislatures typically classify unjustified animal killings as a misdemeanor offense, “killing a police dog or horse is a federal offense that could carry a prison sentence of up to ten years,” writes Lee.
Sometimes, the judgement is more severe, as in the case of one Florida teen who received 23 years in prison for fatally shooting a retired police dog. More recently, a Virginia judge ruled that a teen charged with wounding an officer’s pit bull should be charged as an adult.
Victoria Mckenzie is deputy editor of The Crime Report. She welcomes readers’ comments.
One study found that more officers die by suicide than in the line of duty, but no one is sure. “If you don’t know your problem, if you don’t know what size it is, how are you going deal with it?” asked Ron Clark, a retired Connecticut trooper who heads Badge of Life, which focuses on police suicide prevention.
The number of police suicides seems to be rising. Badge of Life, a nonprofit that unofficially tracks police suicides, reports that 140 officers died at their own hands in 2017, compared to 108 in 2016, the Houston Chronicle reports. There’s no federal database on police suicides, and many departments don’t officially track those deaths. Of 31 agencies surveyed by the Chronicle, fewer than a dozen initially provided official numbers. At least 20 Houston Police Department officers have killed themselves since 2007. More police officers died by suicide across the U.S. than in the line of duty, found a study by the Ruderman Family Foundation, based in Boston. “If you don’t know your problem, if you don’t know what size it is, how are you going deal with it?” asked Ron Clark, a retired Connecticut trooper who heads Badge of Life, which focuses on police suicide prevention.
There’s growing recognition about the need for mental health support and awareness in law enforcement. Because of the “constant exposure to death and destruction,” police officers can face job-related stress, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the Ruderman study. They often are unwilling to tell their co-workers that they are struggling, seeing it as a sign of weakness. The Houston Police Department has seven full-time psychologists and offers free mental health services for officers for the rest of their lives. “Just having a program isn’t good enough,” said James Pasco of the Fraternal Order of Police. “The problem, as best as we can tell, has gotten worse and not better.” Still, only about 3 to 5 percent of law enforcement agencies have suicide prevention training programs. Last year, Congress passed a Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act to create grants for peer support programs, fund studies examining crisis hotlines and help departments address mental health challenges.
Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson says, “It was completely inappropriate to engage the police” in Philadelphia when two men refused to leave the coffee shop after not ordering food or drink. Two black men were arrested and one was taken away in handcuffs in an episode Johnson called “reprehensible.”
An employee who called police to the Philadelphia Starbucks where two black men were arrested last week is no longer working there, Starbucks said on Monday, as the company’s chief executive apologized for the “reprehensible” episode, the New York Times reports. Chief executive Kevin Johnson told ABC that what happened to the men was “wrong,” and that he wanted to meet with them to apologize. Johnson said the company was reviewing its guidelines, which can differ among its 28,000 stores worldwide, and that it would invest in unconscious bias training. The company instructs employees to call the police in certain situations, such as those involving “threats or disturbance,” he said. “In this case, none of that occurred. It was completely inappropriate to engage the police.”
Demonstrators filled the store on Monday morning. The protests continued on the city’s streets throughout the afternoon. On Thursday, the two men asked to use the coffee shop’s restroom. An employee refused the request because the men had not bought anything. They sat down, and they were eventually asked to leave. When they declined, an employee called the police. Some of what happened next was recorded in a video that has been viewed over 10 million times on Twitter and that was described by Johnson as “very hard to watch.” Police officers surrounded the men and escorted one of them out of the Starbucks in handcuffs. The other soon followed. The prosecutor’s office declined to charge the men because of “a lack of evidence that a crime was committed,” said spokesman Benjamin Waxman.
Since last fall, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s program has offered $30,000 loans to police officers and firefighters to buy a home in certain more violent areas. Few officers are taking him up on it.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s attempt to get Chicago cops and firefighters to spread out into the city’s struggling neighborhoods has yet to draw much interest. Six months after the mayor dangled a monetary carrot to try to get them to purchase homes in high-crime parts of the South and West sides, just two police officers have taken advantage, The Chicago Tribune reports. according to the city Department of Planning and Development. Emanuel’s program offers $30,000 loans to police officers and firefighters to buy a home in certain more violent areas. If they stay for at least 10 years, they don’t have to pay the city back. It’s an idea used by former Mayor Richard Daley in previous decades that Emanuel restarted last year.
The proposal set aside $3 million to pay for the loans and passed the City Council easily last year, but not without skepticism from some aldermen about whether it would spur investment in areas that need it most. The program was organized to promote homebuying by police, firefighters and paramedics in parts of Chicago’s six most statistically violent police districts. Anthony Simpkins, the deputy commissioner for housing in the city’s Department of Planning and Development, said the administration will keep trying to get the proposal on police and fire recruits’ radar as they come out of the academy. He ascribed the slow start in part to the timing of the launch. “It’s been operating for six months starting last October, which isn’t exactly the time of year when people are looking to buy homes,” Simpkins said. “We’re just getting into the spring homebuying season, so that could help it pick up.”
A chief of police is one of the nation’s toughest jobs today. Choosing the right one may be even tougher. As Los Angeles scouts a replacement for Charlie Beck, other cities might pick up some pointers.
When Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck retires in June, he’ll leave to his successor the best police department in the city’s history—one that’s no longer the hated, pugnacious symbol of repression it once was, or a primary instigator of the class and race volatility that once made the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) infamous throughout the world, and ignited two of the bloodiest American riots of the 20th century.
The principal reason for the old LAPD’s notorious reputation was myopic, insular leadership, sometimes megalomaniac and self-servingly driven, sometimes stubbornly, existentially dead, and deadly racist in its intent and execution. This was particularly true of those who led the department in the half century between 1950 and 2002.
First, because the dramatic demographic, economic and social changes experienced by Los Angeles over the past half century are shared by many other urban centers across the nation. That includes: growing homeless populations, too-high crime rates, and large immigrant populations living in daily dread of being deported.
Such issues may differ in detail from place to place. But regardless of a city’s size or special challenges, it is dangerously easy to slip back into the repressive policing reviled by so many Americans today.
All it would take to undo much of the trust and goodwill earned by the LAPD over the past 15 years, for example, is a string of controversial incidents in one of its volatile divisions that could provoke a riot—if it’s badly handled by a new chief without the “right stuff.”
Searching for a chief with the right stuff begins with selecting someone with the right temperament and experience. In Los Angeles, that means someone with a cosmopolitan understanding of their city’s extraordinarily diverse population, and a keen awareness of how each police division needs to be individually policed to meet the expectations of today’s politically aware and vocal city dwellers—especially communities of color.
But it also means understanding what went wrong—and right—with previous appointments. The history of Los Angeles police chiefs from the 1950s through the 1990s is replete with examples; and is also the story of most American police leaders of that era.
Mostly white men, they were stubbornly resistant to change and innovation; and, unable to conceive of anything beyond the big stick to reduce crime. They either wouldn’t—or didn’t know how to—accommodate the cultural and political transformations unfolding during their watch.
Chief from 1950-1966, he was a police leader who seemed ideal for the challenges of his time. The major issue facing Parker in 1950 was the LAPD’s historic, on-the-take corruption. A true, innovative reformer he brought the endemic dishonesty and abasement of his department to an immediate and impressive end—a step the police in New York and Chicago didn’t take until decades later.
But by the 1960s, Parker had grown old, imperious and autocratic. He was unable to tolerate dissenting opinions or criticism. Most disconcertingly, Parker’s racism was hard to miss. Once, he denounced all those “wild tribes from Mexico” pouring into his city that had to be contained. (Los Angeles Times, 1/29/59)
To deal with them—and most especially to control black Angelinos—he devised the intrusive, often brutal “occupying force” policing strategy in black L.A. that became the department’s hallmark.
As the city’s African American newspaper, The Sentinel put it: “Hardly a day passes without…physical evidence of beatings [in the black community by LA cops.]…led by a chief who has shown an unbelievable contempt for our Negro and Mexican American communities.” (Los Angeles Sentinel, 8/17/61)
All of which led to both the 1965 Watts’ Riots and set the stage the 1992 L.A Riots. Parker, in short, embodied being an exemplary chief for his time and place, as well as the kind of disaster that can happen when he or she is not.
L.A. Police Chief Ed Davis (1969-1978). Photo via Wikipedia.
Ed Davis, chief from 1969-1978, and later a California state senator (1980-1992), shared Parker’s world view and many of his most egregious leadership qualities. But the bullying manner in which he dealt with conflict and adversity should be a red flag to anyone choosing a new chief. Smart, big and mean, Davis utterly, uncompromisingly, believed the LAPD should be accountable only to him. His response to any perceived criticism was high-decibel public bombast.
To take one example, when a local TV reporter decided to investigate a raft of bad LAPD shootings, Davis ordered the reporter’s head-shot photo placed on all targets at the police academy shooting range, and stickers with the last name of the reporter pasted on patrol-car rear bumpers reading, [Wayne] “Satz Sucks.”
As Davis’ immediate predecessor, LAPD Chief Tom Redden who served briefly 1967-1969, later pointed out: “When Ed Davis fought with everybody, the cop on the street thought he could fight with anyone, too.”
And that’s what L.A. cops did over the ensuing decades. They copied his behavior and, in the process incited trouble and anger.
L.A. Police Chief Daryl Gates (1978-1992). Photo via Wikipedia
Daryl Gates, chief from 1978-1992, possessed just about every red-flag quality to avoid in a new chief. He was stubborn, unwilling to compromise, and displayed an arrogance so profound that he refused to listen to, or work with, civilian oversight entities or leaders in black or brown communities. He saw his troops as his only constituency and would defend them no matter how outrageous their behavior—which inevitably encouraged abuses of police power.
Nor did he care that L.A.’s politics, culture and demography were dramatically changing; or that vast numbers of Angelinos felt impotent to change the department and had come to fiercely hate it.
With Gates as chief for 14 years, the 1992 Los Angeles Riots were almost inevitable.
Watts 1965. Photo by beth noe via Flickr
Willie Williams left his post as Philadelphia Police Commissioner to succeed Gates. The former Philadelphia Police Commissioner, Williams, who served from 1992 to 1997, was chosen because he was an outsider—the first in 40 years—and most explicitly, because he was African American. But he possessed none of the qualities needed to be the new reform chief of a riot-torn city.
L.A. Police Chief Willie Williams (1992-1997). Photo courtesy LAPD
He arrived knowing no one and trusting no one, and made no allies. Incurious and inept, he lacked the skills and energy to gain acceptance within the department or to reform it.
Unceremoniously dismissed five years after being hired, Williams represented a missed opportunity for meaningful reform. The Williams lesson should be a warning to Los Angeles commissioners currently examining new applicants—as well as to other cities experiencing a change in senior police management.
Thoroughly vet your candidates;
Avoid choosing a chief because he or she is a symbol. (The job’s too big and important for that.)
L.A. Police Chief Bernard Parks (1997-2002). Photo via Wikipedia
Bernard Parks, who succeeded Williams in 1997, was also ill-suited for the job. Smart, and knowledgeable, the 32-year LAPD veteran knew his city, and was highly regarded by his own black community, downtown politicians and department insiders. But like his predecessors, he thought he could run the LAPD as his own private fiefdom, and treat critics and the press with disdain.
He also had a quality that must be avoided in a new chief.
He was imperious—headstrong and authoritarian. So thoroughly did his inappropriately harsh and indiscriminate discipline and top-down management alienate his troops, that they lost confidence in him. Parks never got it back, and thus could not continue as an effective leader.
The lesson was clear to Charlie Beck, who served under Parks as an ambitious young officer (and inherited his seat a decade and a half later). “The way a chief treats his cops is the way that they will treat the community,” Beck later told me. “If you treat cops like fools, or if you’re over-dependent on harsh discipline, that’s what they’ll learn [and act out] on the street.”
L.A. Police Chief Bill Bratton (2002-2009). Photo by Policy Exchange via Flickr
Beck’s immediate predecessor, Bill Bratton, changed the paradigm. As chief from 2002-2009, Bratton was confident, reform-minded, and willing to listen. In L.A. he followed his playbook as New York Police Commissioner in the 1990s. He recruited smart people and encouraged his field captains to freely innovate, and to tailor their strategies according to each individual division’s needs.
He made the LAPD a thinking organization, not one that was glued to an antiquated police manual, and afraid to take the initiative.
The clear lesson: A confident but flexible, innovative chief is a must.
L.A. Police Chief Charlie Beck (2009-2018). Photo by Scott L. via Flickr
Los Angeles and other cities in search of new leadership would do well to look at Beck as a model. Since he took over from Bratton, Beck used his strong interpersonal skills to forge ties with the opinion-makers and lever-pullers in communities, and with political groups throughout the city.
His political intelligence was manifest in how he worked successfully both with a liberal police commission and a conservative police union to reinforce and expand the behavioral/cultural changes begun under Bratton. During his tenure, all patrol cars and officers were equipped with cameras. The department’s shooting policy was also altered to include training officers to avoid the use of lethal force when possible by de-escalating tense situations.
L.A. Police Chief (2018-?). Image by mohamed mara via Flickr
His big-picture managerial skills also extended to dealing with his troops. He got buy-in from the rank and file for his reforms by treating all LAPD officers with the same respect he expected them to show when dealing with the public. By modeling his collegial working style and measured responses in controversial situations, he exemplified how his officers should deal with conflict.
Bratton and Beck have given Los Angeles an important gift: a police department that once notoriously defied progressive reform for decades that’s become a model for the nation.
The next Los Angeles police chief will need to have Beck’s extraordinary political skills, Bratton’s confidence and openness to change, and some of the strong-willed management skills (without the arrogance) of their predecessors.
The goal of L.A.’s police commission—as well as reform-minded police oversight bodies throughout America—should now be to avoid at all costs a new chief that could set the clock moving backward.
History has shown how difficult it is in policing to get things right.
Joe Domanick, Associate Director of the Center on Media, Crime and Justice at John Jay College, and West Coast bureau chief of The Crime Report, is the author of two books on the LAPD. Newspaper references above can be found in his first book, “To Protect and to Serve: The LAPD’s Century of War on the City of Dreams,” published in 1994. His latest book, “Blue: The LAPD and the Battle to Redeem American Policing,” is now out in paperback. Joe welcomes readers’ comments.
City officials had cited many flaws in the 911 call system in recent years. Police Chief Eliot Isaac said something went “terribly wrong” as a teen was being crushed to death in a van and was unable to get help on the phone.
The warnings about Cincinnati’s 911 system over the past few years have sounded almost as dire as the urgent calls emergency operators receive every day, reports the Cincinnati Enquirer. “It is a recipe for disaster.” “Disorganized and inconsistent.” “Bordered on dysfunctional.” “Playing Russian roulette with people’s lives.” Those descriptions of the city’s emergency communications system came from top city officials and others who have struggled for years to fix a connection that citizens count on during life-and-death emergencies. It’s a system that many of those same officials say failed this week when high school student Kyle Plush spent 5 minutes and 38 seconds on the phone with two different 911 operators, begging for help as he was being crushed to death in his van in a parking lot.
“In the second 911 call, something has gone terribly wrong,” Cincinnati Police Chief Eliot Isaac said on Thursday. “This young man was crying out for help and we were not able to get information to officers on the scene.” As chief, he oversees the 911 center. In the past two years, concerns about the 911 center have been outlined in memos, reports and emails describing a system burdened by poor management, a lack of training, long work hours, unfilled jobs and technical problems. Employees have accused managers of mistreating them and ignoring their warnings. Managers have complained about inadequate budgets and high turnover. Callers in need of help have encountered technical problems, including systemwide blackouts that prevented them from reaching an operator. “This tragedy may ultimately suggest the problems have not been resolved or that not enough changes have been made,” Mayor John Cranley said. “We owe the Plush family and the public a detailed and comprehensive explanation.”
The Ruderman Family Foundation found that while suicide has been an issue for years, very little has been done to address it even though first responders have PTSD and depression at a level five times that of civilians.
Suicides left more police officers and firefighters dead last year than all line-of-duty deaths combined — a jarring statistic that continues to plague first responders but gets little attention, reports USA Today. A new study by the Ruderman Family Foundation, a philanthropic organization that works for the rights of people with disabilities, looked at depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and other issues affecting first responders and the rates of suicide in departments nationwide. The group found that while suicide has been an issue for years, very little has been done to address it even though first responders have PTSD and depression at a level five times that of civilians.
Last year, 103 firefighters and 140 police officers committed suicide, whereas 93 firefighters and 129 officers died in the line of duty, which includes everything from being fatally shot, stabbed, drowning or dying in a car accident while on the job. Miriam Heyman, a co-authors of the study, said the suicides are under-reported by the news media, while other more high-profile deaths make headlines. There were 46 officers who died after being fatally shot on the job in 2017, nearly 67 percent under the number of suicides. “It’s really shocking, and part of what’s interesting is that line-of-duty deaths are covered so widely by the press but suicides are not, and it’s because of the level of secrecy around these deaths, which really shows the stigmas,” Heyman said.
Ken Griffin, listed as Illinois’ richest man, is donating $10 million to help establish “strategic decision support centers” in high-crime police districts. There, police officers and University of Chicago analysts crunch gunshot data to determine where best to deploy cops.
Chicago’s five major sports teams pledged a total of $1 million late last year to bankroll violence prevention programs. Now Chicago billionaire Ken Griffin — listed as Illinois’ richest man — is raising the ante, the Chicago Sun-Times reports. Griffin is donating $10 million toward the city’s efforts to reduce gun violence. Mayor Rahm Emanuel acknowledged he and Griffin are on opposite ends of the political spectrum. Griffin is Gov. Bruce Rauner’s biggest contributor and this week, Emanuel blasted the Republican governor for vetoing a gun store licensing bill that was pushed by the mayor. Emanuel said he and Griffin see eye-to-eye on the need to improve Chicago. Griffin said he hopes his donation will inspire other civic leaders to join the efforts “to make our city safer.” Griffin is founder and CEO of the Chicago-based hedge fund Citadel.
His latest donation will largely support a partnership of the Chicago Police Department and University of Chicago Crime Lab, which last year opened Strategic Decision Support Centers in high-crime police districts. In the support centers, which cost about $1.5 million each, officers and university analysts crunch gunshot data to determine where to best deploy cops. Information from gunshot detectors and surveillance cameras is displayed on large monitors. Officers have real-time access to the information via cellphone and in-car computers, alerting them to the spot where a shooting occurred. The police department partly credits a recent decline in gun violence across the city to the support centers. Through March, homicides were down 17 percent and the number of shooting victims decreased 30 percent compared with the same period of 2017.
The Sacramento Police Department has ordered officers to keep their body cameras and microphones on after criticism over the muting of footage minutes after the Stephon Clark shooting.
The Sacramento Police Department has ordered officers to keep their body cameras and microphones on after community members criticized the muting of footage minutes after the Stephon Clark shooting, the Sacramento Bee reports. The department sent a memo to rank-and-file officers saying they “shall not deactivate or mute their BWCs (body worn cameras) until the investigative or enforcement activity involving a member of the public has concluded.” The memo says cameras may be turned off when officers are discussing issues with a doctor or nurse, when victims refuse to give a statement while being recorded, or when the incident involves “sensitive circumstances” such as sexual assault.
Officers must say on camera why they are turning off the cameras before doing so, according to the memo. Police supervisors can also give approval for cameras to be turned off or muted. “We will continue to work through the development, review and vetting of an updated BWC policy and hope to have that completed soon,” the memo reads. “However, the current policy requires some immediate clarification and additions that cannot wait until the review process is complete.” Based on police footage, officers muted their body cams about six minutes after shooting Clark on March 18 as they began to discuss with other cops what transpired. That contributed to distrust among African Americans and activists after the incident.
St. Louis Police Chief John Hayden says city attorneys improperly made public information on police tactics and policies. He calls the action a “grave matter” that could jeopardize officer safety.
St. Louis Police Chief John Hayden says the “improper release” of police tactics and policies by city attorneys to a local activist is a “grave matter” that could jeopardize officer safety, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. The city’s Riverfront Times reported that Philip Weeks filed a sunshine-law request for the department’s policies, manuals and special orders and has published online the records he has received. Weeks says there is little evidence in the documents that the department practices de-escalation. Hayden said the police section of the city counselor’s office “improperly released unredacted policies and procedures” to Weeks.
Department spokeswoman Schron Jackson said the documents Weeks published includes information about equipment and tactics used by specialized units, including the SWAT team. “Some of this procedural information would include tactical responses to certain types of incidents; thus making this release of information an officer safety concern,” Hayden wrote. He said the department is working with the city counselor’s office to determine what “remedial legal action can be taken with respect to this release” and will be addressing any “tactical vulnerabilities created by this release.” Other departments, including St. Louis County, publish their policies and procedures online. Weeks said his effort to obtain records began after the protests following a judge’s decision to acquit a former St. Louis police officer of murder for a 2011 on-duty shooting.