Colorado requires law enforcement training in dog behavior

From ANIMAL PEOPLE,  May/June 2013:

DENVER––Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper on May 13,  2013 signed into law bills designating shelter animals the official state pet and requiring Colorado police and sheriff’s departments to provide personnel with three hours of online training on dog behavior recognition and the use of nonlethal dog control methods.  The training must be made available by September 1,  2014.

The legislation also requires that dog keepers be given the opportunity to control or remove their dogs when police or sheriff’s deputies visit a home other than in response to an alleged violent emergency. “Law enforcement offered guidance on the bill,  which has exemptions for officers to exercise discretion during calls, taking into account their safety and the safety of others when dealing with dogs,”  summarized Ivan Moreno of Associated Press. “Sheriff’s deputies assigned to courts or jails are exempted from the training,  as are code enforcement officers.”

Who does the training?

Instruction comparable to what the new Colorado law requires is offered by the National Animal Control Association and Humane University,  a subsidiary of the Humane Society of the U.S.,  as well as by a variety of academic institutions and dog training academies.

“The Arvada Police Department in suburban Denver has been training police to recognize different dog behaviors,”  wrote Moreno,  “and the program was recently expanded to include all officers.  But Darrel Stephens,  executive director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association,  noted last month that he is unaware of any other state or local government with laws or ordinances requiring training for law enforcement on how to handle dog encounters.

“Legislators introduced the proposal,”  Moreno continued,  “because of high-profile cases of questionable dog shootings during the last few years,  including Ava,  a German shepherd who was shot by an Erie police officer in 2011.  Ava’s owner, Brittany Moore,  has insisted her pet was not a threat and that the dog had a rawhide treat in her mouth when she was shot by an officer responding to Moore’s call about someone harassing her by phone.”

Other disputed dog shootings by police have brought calls for legislation similar to the new Colorado law from dog advocates in California,  Illinois,  Tennessee,  Texas,  and Washington.  All have histories of litigation against police departments over law enforcement dog shootings.


Deirdre and Charles Wright of Des Moines,  Washington,  for example,  in November 2012 filed a federal lawsuit against the Des Moines Police Department,  alleging that their civil rights were violated when police responding to a dog-at-large call shot their four-year-old Newfoundland,  Rosie,  on November 7,  2010.  Over an hour’s time,  recounted Seattle Times staff reporter Mike Carter,  “police used a taser on Rosie twice,  chased her for blocks,  and ultimately shot the dog four times with an assault rifle in a stranger’s back yard.”

One of the three officers involved had a catchpole,  but none of them knew how to use it,  patrol car dashboard audio of the incident indicated.  The lone Des Moines animal control officer was off duty and did not promptly respond to messages.

Lindsey Gonzalez-Rivera and her husband Luis Rivera on March 28,  2013 filed suit in Riverside Superior Court,  California, seeking $150,000 each,  plus punitive damages of $50,000 and attorney’s fees,  from the Riverside police department,  officer Ryan Wilson,  and police chief Sergio Diaz.

“The city council rejected a claim for $75,000 in September,”  reported Riverside Press-Enterprise staff writer Brian Rokos. “City attorney Greg Priamos declined to comment,  other than to say, “We intend to defend the lawsuit.”

The case originated on August 23,  2012 when police served an arrest warrant on a murder suspect two doors from the Rivera home.  “Officers were deployed around the area in case the suspect fled,  and Wilson was assigned to take up a spot in the Riveras’ back yard,”  Rokos recounted.  “Police said Wilson entered the yard,  and was surprised,  cornered,  and attacked” by the Riveras’ pit bull before shooting.

Continued Rokos,  “The lawsuit says that the dog barked at Wilson from inside the yard.  Wilson fired one shot through the gate and into the dog’s head,  the lawsuit says.”

Dog keepers have won significant sums in several similar cases.  A Chicago federal jury on August 18,  2011 awarded $330,000 to brothers Thomas and Darren Russell and their parents for the February 2009 police shooting of their 9-year-old black Labrador retriever during a drug raid that hit the wrong side of a duplex.  Thomas Russell,  who was earlier acquitted of obstructing police,  had asked if he could lock up the dog before the police entered.

Five years earlier,  seven Hell’s Angels motorcycle club members received a reported settlement of $990,000 after suing seven San Jose police officers and a Santa Clara County sheriff’s deputy who in January 1998 shot a Rottweiler and two other dogs while raiding two homes in search of evidence pertaining to the 1997 fatal beating of a man at the Pink Poodle nightclub in San Jose.

U.S. Supreme Court

Reviewing the case in April 2005,  the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that law enforcement officers have a duty to consider alternatives to shooting dogs.  The U.S. Supreme Court in December 2005 upheld the ruling by refusing to reconsider it.

The April 2005 appellate verdict followed a 1994 decision by the same court that reversed a lower court verdict and held that killing a pet without urgent necessity violates the Fourth Amendment,  which protects citizens against unreasonable search and seizure.  That case originated from a 1991 incident in which Richmond,  California police officers shot a dog belonging to James Fuller and family while chasing a burglary suspect––who had no connection to the Fullers––through the family’s yard.  In 1998 the city of Richmond paid the Fuller family $525,000 in damages and legal fees.

A parallel case originated in July 2005 when three Richmond police officers shot a pit bull belonging to Mark Parr and Cynthia Peters while pursuing an unrelated suspect.  In the Parr/Peters case,  the pit bull was confined behind a fence until the police opened the gate.  Parr and Peters in 2007 received a settlement of $210,000.

Two other pit bulls were impounded from Parr and Peters in June 2008,  after the dogs attacked a Sacramento Municipal Utility District worker who was apparently investigating alleged theft of services,  for which Peters was charged.  In July 2008 the dogs were stolen from the Sacramento animal shelter.  Serving a warrant on Parr and Peters in August 2008 for an alleged purse snatching,  Sacramento County sheriff’s deputies encountered two pit bulls in their motel room.  The detectives serving the warrant fatally shot both pit bulls,  but only after motel janitor Miguel Gutierrez was severely mauled.  A Sacramento Superior Court judge found the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department negligent for failing to keep Gutierrez away from the scene. Gutierrez won a jury award of $170,000.  Peters and Parr later received two-year sentences for grand theft.

Which dogs are shot?

Proponents of laws requiring police and sheriff’s deputies to be trained in dog behavior note that U.S. law enforcement officers shot at least 210 dogs in the first four months of 2013,  contending that many of the shootings were avoidable.

ANIMAL PEOPLE confirmed 33 of the shootings,  which targeted 31 pit bulls and two Rottweilers.  The dogs had killed more than 70 other animals,  and killed or injured 28 people.  Among the injured were nine police officers,  three animal control officers,  and a police dog.

ANIMAL PEOPLE has file information about 305 dogs shot by police in 2005-2012,  of whom 216 (71%) were pit bulls.

Evaluating dog shootings by law enforcement in Lee County,  Florida,  Fort Myers News Press reporter Marissa Kendall found that “Officers shot at animals 111 times from 2009-12,  compared to human suspects 24 times.  Pit bulls who threatened officers accounted for a large percentage of the shootings.  Deputies shot at least 22 pit bulls––the breed accounted for more than 75% of all dogs shot,  and 36% of all animals shot.”

Fourteen of 15 dogs shot by police in Elgin,  Illinois in 2010-2011 were pit bulls,  consistent with the trend found in 2008 and the first half of 2009 by volunteer David Monroe.   In 2008,  Monroe reported,  police fired 626 bullets at 373 pit bulls,   killing 319 of them.  Six people were killed by pit bulls in those incidents;  148 were injured.

Earlier,  Douglas Quan of the Riverside Press-Enterprise reported that pit bulls and Rottweilers predominated among 162 animals shot by members of the Riverside and San Bernardino police and county sheriff’s departments in 2000-2004.  While 158 of the shootings appeared to be warranted,  Quan found,  in at least four cases dogs were shot when police raided the wrong address,  or failed to determine that the dogs belonged to the victims of reported crimes in progress,  not the perpetrators.


ANIMAL PEOPLE recommends fire extinguishers as the safest and most humane tools for interrupting a dog attack,  since using a fire extinguisher does not require closely approaching the dog,  it does not have to be aimed very accurately to have a deterrent effect,  it does not quickly run out of ammunition,  it does not produce an erratic ricochet,  and is non-lethal.  But if the fire extinguisher is exhausted while the dog attack continues,  the empty cylinder can be used as a shield,  a club,  or a bite stick, as appropriate.  Besides the deterrent effect of the fire extinguisher’s contents, which tend to make animals quickly short of breath without lastingly harming them, most animals,  including most dogs,  retreat from the snake-like hiss of a discharging fire extinguisher.

Among the other popular non-lethal devices used to stop dog attacks,  pepper spray and Mace must be relatively accurately directed,  and are typically carried in small containers meant for use at close range.  Tasers are often useless against fur-covered animals.  Tranquilizer darts must be placed very accurately to be effective, difficult to achieve when a dog or other animal is in attack mode,  and then the tranquilizer can take several minutes to work,  during which time the animal can do significant damage.

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