Puppycide

The other day, someone asked Radley Balko why cops seem to shoot so many dogs. It seems Radley has become something of an expert on this subject. He’s the go-to guy on what everybody now calls puppycide. And this was his response:

Because they can. No training, no consequences.

That seemed like a pretty good explanation to me, but New York criminal defense lawyer Scott Greenfield thinks it’s mostly wrong. For one thing, Greenfield thinks it’s not caused by a lack of training, but as a direct result of training:

Cops kill dogs because of the First Rule of Policing, make it home for dinner. If a dog is perceived as a potential threat to the officer’s safety, no matter how slight, the cop will shoot the dog dead. It’s not that he wanted to kill another dog, but that there was no way, none, that he was going to suffer a scratch, no less a vicious bite.

In other words, police officers are taught to value their own safety above all else, and thus their use of force escalates far too steeply, with the result that they kill a lot of dogs for no good reason. And it’s not just dogs, as Scott illustrates with a recent police shooting story out of Houston:

A schizophrenic double amputee waving a writing pen from his wheelchair was fatally shot early Saturday by a Houston police officer, authorities said.

“He was approaching them aggressively,” said Houston Police Department spokes­woman Jodi Silva. “He was attempting to stab them with what is now found to be a pen.”

This is a point that Scott has been hitting over and over. He thinks modern police culture and training have become focused on officer safety to the exclusion of all other goals, including the safety of the people they’re supposed to serve and protect. I was skeptical at first, but he’s convinced me that this is a real problem, and it’s exacerbated by the attitude of some cops that many of the crimes they deal with are NHI, “no humans involved.” Why take risks for inhuman scum?

Nevertheless, I don’t think this is inconsistent with Radley’s statement, properly interpreted. Radley’s point about training is that police officers apparently don’t receive much training in handling overexcited dogs, so they sometimes overreact and resort to the gun when less violent options are available. If we want, as Scott suggests, for officer safety to be less of an all-consuming priority in police departments, that will have to translate to a training program that teaches officers a better way to handle less-than-lethal threats, including dogs. Radley is pointing out that such training is rare.

I also suspect there’s another reason why cops shoot dogs when it’s not necessary, and Scott and Radley both seem to miss it (or else regard it as too obvious to mention). Here’s how Scott puts it:

Cops do not shoot dogs because they hate dogs. They don’t roam the town in search of dogs to shoot. They don’t take independent joy in killing the family pet. It may seem that way, but it’s not the case. So the answer isn’t “because they can,” being of a dog-killing sort and murdering them whenever the opportunity presents itself.

I’m not so sure that’s true. Not for every cop.

I’ve been reading a lot lately about psychopathy — also known as sociopathy and related to anti-social personality disorder — and despite what horror movies tell us, most psychopaths are not serial killers (although many serial killers are psychopaths). They are simply people who have never felt an ounce of sympathy for another human being. They are the abusive boyfriends, the charming con men, the corporate executives who lie to everyone while stealing millions.

According to psychologist Martha Stout, psychopaths tend to relate to other people through manipulation and dominance games, which they can win by making others lose. As children, they are nearly powerless and unable to win against other people, but animals are a different story, and cruelty to animals is one of the diagnostic criteria for antisocial personality disorder.

Psychologists estimate that at least 1% of the people in the U.S. are psychopaths, and it’s not hard to imagine that some of them have become police officers. It’s not hard to imagine that, contrary to Scott’s supposition above, these police officers do roam the town in search of dogs to shoot. They just do it under color of authority. Not only do they get to kill the stupid dog, but they get to watch the owner break down in tears, helpless against their power. For a psychopath, that’s a good day.

I’m not saying that every cop that shoots a dog is a psychopath, but I strongly suspect that some of them are. There may not be many of them, but psychopaths are devastating far beyond their numbers and likely account for more than their share of misery. There may be normal cops who mistakenly shoot friendly family pets in the back as they run away, but that’s far more likely to be a psychopath with a badge and gun.

So this Park Forest cop shoots a dog. It’s a family dog, Princess, with two children in the house, so I think we can assume it wasn’t too vicious. To be fair, the dog was a mixed German Shepard/pit bull, so it probably looked scary.

As is common with family dogs that are shot by cops, it was shot in front of its family, Tracy Walker and her 12-year-old son. According to Walker, it happened like this:

Thinking that the dog needed relieve herself, Walker’s son opened the door, and Princess escaped.

Park Forest Deputy Police Chief Mike McNamara said the dog ran toward the detective.

“He was yelling (to Walker’s family) ‘Get your dog! get your dog!’ ” McNamara said.

The dog initially went past the detective, then turned and lunged back at him, McNamara said.

“He pulled out his service revolver and (shot) the dog in the head,” McNamara said.

Walker said the bleeding dog crawled back into the house, spilling blood everywhere, including on the hands of Walker’s two stunned children.

Walker said the dog was brought to a local veterinarian for emergency care but later was pronounced dead after losing too much blood.

A few other details really paint the picture. The detective who shot the dog had entered the Walkers’ yard uninvited. But for being there on police business, he would have been trespassing. So he shot Princess in her own yard.

Also, he was in the yard with two other police officers, one of whom was also the department’s dog handler.

As Radley says,

I’m asking this as a serious question:  Do cops get any sort of training in how to deal with dogs?

I’m sure they do, but this stuff keeps happening.

Some of the commenters at the Southtown Star web site are blaming the family. It’s mostly the usual stuff, but this was interesting:

bbnguy815 wrote:

It’s a sad story and tragic for the family but I can’t say I blame the cop. Why do people feel it’s ok to let their dog out of the house without a leash? Either get a fence or take the dog out for a walk. I used to deliver mail. People always said “my dog won’t hurt anyone”. Maybe the dog won’t hurt you, the owner, but if it feels threatened it will hurt whatever it thinks is a threat. I hope this is a lesson learned for pet owners to be more responsible.

Point #1: Maybe bbnguy815 should consider a career in law enforcement. After all, as a postal worker he dealt with scary dogs all the time and never had to shoot any of them.

Point #2: Regarding the “get a fence” remark, I did a little research on the web, and I could be totally wrong…but I don’t think so. See if you can pick out the Walker family’s home in this aerial photo. Go ahead, take a guess. (click the picture to see a larger image)

Walker Household.jpg

Before I end this post, I should mention that it’s hard to rely on media accounts of shootings because most reporters are unfamiliar with the legal and moral thinking behind pulling the trigger, and the subjects of the story usually have a strong incentive to lie. So it’s only fair to note that the shooter could have had a very good reason for doing what he did.

Now for a point of order. With this post, I realized that I had enough material to start a whole new department here at Windypundit. It’s a very sad department. Check the top of this post.

Update: Just to make this clear, I’m not saying the detective did anything illegal or even really wrong here on a personal basis. For all I know, he’s encountered hundreds of dogs before, and he had a good, solid reason to believe this dog intended to harm him.

Nevertheless, this is a failure: Through no fault of their own, the Walker family is out one dog; they are pissed off at the police, and I’m guessing their neighbors are pissed off in sympathy. That doesn’t exactly help the police with their public safety mission.

Also, it looks like they never caught the burglar they were looking for.

I’m not a cop hater. It’s a hard job, and they don’t make the rules they enforce. But I think I hate this cop. The video is not pleasant.

Everyone runs into strange dogs—-postal workers, firemen, door-to-door salesmen, Jehova’s Witnesses, meter readers, telephone line workers, garbage collectors, other cops, and even little kids walking home from school—and we all get by without killing them.

If you’re a cop, and you can’t handle a rambunctious farm dog, just quit your fucking job. You’re too dumb to have a badge and gun. Or else you’re a creep who gets a kick out of having the power to kill other people’s dogs. Either way, find some other line of work.

Last week, Prince George’s County cops raided the home of Cheye Calvo. They were there to seize 32 pounds of marijuana that had just been delivered by FedEx.

Even when the story first broke, it seemed unlikely that Calvo was actually the intended recipient of the drugs, since he’s the mayor of Berwyn Heights, Maryland. Of course, that didn’t stop the county’s finest from shooting his dogs.

The police now seem to have a better idea what happened:

Police say the couple appeared to be innocent victims of a scheme by two men to smuggle millions of dollars worth of marijuana by having it delivered to about a half-dozen unsuspecting recipients.

The two men under arrest include a FedEx deliveryman; investigators said the deliveryman would drop off a package outside a home, and the other man would come by a short time later and pick it up.

Prince George’s County Police Chief Melvin High has apologized to Mayor Calvo and his wife for the raid on his house and for killing his two black Labradors, and he’s promised to revisit the decision making process his department uses to decide when a raid is approved.

Ha! Just kidding. No, Chief High is being a dick about it:

Prince George’s County Police Chief Melvin High said Wednesday that Calvo and his family were “most likely … innocent victims,” but he would not rule out their involvement, and he defended the way the raid was conducted.

It’s possible that Prince George’s County Police Chief Melvin High is selling child pornography to raise money for Al-Qaeda. I don’t actually have any evidence of this, but I’m not prepared to rule it out.

He and other officials did not apologize for killing the dogs, saying the officers felt threatened.

So what? If I broke into Calvo’s house and killed his dogs, I couldn’t hope to keep out of jail by saying I was afraid of the dogs. That doesn’t matter if you don’t belong there in the first place.

The cops had a warrant, so it wasn’t a crime for them to be there, but they could still apologize. Heck, even if Calvo was a drug kingpin, they could still apologize for killing a pair of innocent dogs.

Actually, as Mike at Crime & Federalism points out, the police had a few problems with the warrant. They entered without knocking, something they claimed their warrant allowed. It turns out they were lying about that:

But a review of the warrant indicates that police neither sought nor received permission from Circuit Court Judge Albert W. Northrup to enter without knocking.

So now the police have changed their story:

But officials insisted they acted within the law, saying the operation was compromised when Calvo’s mother-in-law saw officers approaching the house and screamed. That could have given someone time to grab a gun or destroy evidence, authorities said.

I’m sure that must be true. Just because the cops lied the first time, doesn’t mean they’re lying now, right? And how hard can it be to flush 32 pounds of marijuana down the toilet?

Or maybe he could have fed it to the dogs.

Oh my God. I had no idea.

I’ve been criticizing the Lima, Ohio SWAT team for killing Tarika Wilson, an unarmed woman who was holding her infant son as the team raided her house. In my last post on the subject, I mentioned that the cops also shot the family dogs, which seems to be a favorite sport of SWAT teams.

In my very first post on the Lima raid, I wrote this:

As SWAT teams often do, they shot the household dog as they entered. Now ask yourself, given that police have TASERs, pepper spray, riot batons, and body armor, what kind of asshole discharges a firearm in a house with children in it just to stop a dog?

It turns out I should have asked a better question: What kind of asshole discharges a firearm in a house with an armed and nervous SWAT team in it just to stop a dog?

An AP reporter describes the testimony of Sgt. Joseph Chavalia, the cop who killed Tarika Wilson:

Sgt. Joseph Chavalia testified that he saw a shadow coming from behind a partially open bedroom door as he walked upstairs at the house of a suspected drug dealer. He said he heard gunshots, flinched and pointed his gun toward the door.

“There was absolutely, positively no doubt in my mind right then and there that whoever this was is shooting at me. They’re trying to kill me,” Chavalia said.

Chavalia told jurors that he now knows the gunfire he heard was coming from downstairs, where other officers shot two charging pit bulls.

So, some sadistic cop kills the family dogs, and Chavalia misinterprets the source of the gunfire, killing an innocent woman, and permanently maiming the infant in her arms.

The defense’s shooting expert has an explanation for Cavailia’s behavior:

A retired FBI agent who now frequently testifies on behalf of police officers accused in shootings said Thursday that Chavalia made the right decision because he thought his life was in danger.

“We know this wasn’t the case,” Urey Patrick told jurors. “We have to look at this from the point of the officer.”

He also said that the shots fired by other officers at the pit bulls were literally right below where Wilson was in the bedroom.

“I can understand why Sgt. Chavalia thought those shots were coming from the bedroom,” Patrick said.

I can too, but there’s also this:

Under questioning by Prosecutor Jeffrey Strausbaugh, Chavalia said he never saw Wilson’s hands or face and didn’t know if she had a weapon. He said his line of sight was limited when he fired and he had no idea Wilson’s six children were in the bedroom.

So, he shot at noise and movement, without seeing a weapon or a muzzle flash, and without knowing what was behind his target. That breaks a whole bunch of gun safety rules.

But maybe you have to break some rules if the danger seems extreme enough.

I’ve previously written that I don’t know if the officer who pulled the trigger was the one responsible for this mess. The tragedy may have been inevitable from the way these operations are planned and carried out. If police keep sending violent raids into people’s houses, they are guaranteed to keep killing innocent people.

You know, a few people have taken me to task for my earlier criticism of this raid. They say I’m ignorant of police tactics, which is probably true. But nothing I’ve said is nearly as stupid and pointless as what the Lima SWAT team did.