Tenn: "Animals in most police shootings"


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cuchulainn
February 10, 2003, 10:10 AM
http://www.knoxnews.com/kns/local_news/article/0,1406,KNS_347_1732433,00.html

from the Knoxville News Sentinel

Animals in most police shootings
Guns seldom used, but when they are, assailant most likely not human

By LAURA AYO, ayol@knews.com
February 9, 2003

The call to the Knoxville Police Department's Animal Control unit came in one April afternoon in 1999 after a 50-pound, black and white female pit pull had forced a Northwest Knoxville man to seek refuge on top of his roof.

The dog had attacked the man "for no reason" when the man walked into his back yard.

Another neighbor had to pick up an object in his driveway to fight off the dog before officer Kenneth Sutherland arrived.

"After I arrived on the scene and began talking to the complainants, the pit bull kept attacking me several times," Sutherland wrote in a firearm-use report about the incident. "I had to hold the dog at bay with my control stick and .22 rifle."

"To make the neighborhood safe," Sutherland ended up shooting the dog three times.

The first shot brought on an even more "aggressive" attack on the officer. Two more shots ended the encounter.

The incident is one of 48 between 1998 and 2002 in which lawmen fired their service weapons.

A review of firearm-use reports kept by the Knoxville Police Department and Knox County Sheriff's Office showed officers have infrequently discharged their firearms in the past five years.

But when they have, they've shot animals more than half the time.

Animals took the bullet in three-quarters of the 36 instances where police shots produced a death or wounding. The animals shot were 21 dogs, two roosters, two deer, a wolf hybrid and one "enraged and charging" cow.

In 18 of the incidents involving animals, officers indicated they were protecting themselves, fellow officers or the public when they fired.

"These kinds of unfortunate steps had to be taken to protect public safety and manage it," said Knoxville Police Chief Phil Keith.

Keith and Knox County Chief Deputy Sheriff Dwight Van de Vate agreed the number of times an officer discharges his or her firearm is low in comparison to the number of incidents officers are involved in each year.

"We get 300,000 calls a year and over a million contacts with the public," Keith said.

From 1998 to 2002, six people were wounded and three killed by law-enforcement officers. Again, Keith and Van de Vate said those numbers are low, especially considering the number of times an officer is assaulted on duty.

"Officers are assaulted every five to seven days," Keith said.

Judgment training and information officers receive before they reach a scene contribute to the infrequent number of discharged weapons, Keith and Van de Vate said.

"The more information the responding officer has at the front end, the less likely there's going to be firearms used," Van de Vate said.

Five of the 48 incidents were accidental discharges in which no one was harmed. Four incidents involved officers ending a wounded animal's suffering, such as when a deer was struck by a vehicle or when an escaped and wounded cow kept charging those trying to get near her. The two roosters were shot and killed in response to nuisance complaints.

All but two animal shootings by KPD officers were made by Animal Control officers like Sutherland, whom Keith said are civilian employees who work within the patrol division and are specially trained in dealing with animals.

"The majority are driven by complaints of chasing kids in neighborhoods," Keith said.

On Christmas Eve of 1999, an officer killed a dog after it had spent the day attacking children and charged the officer who responded to complaints from neighbors.

On May 9, 2000, two officers killed a canine that had bitten two children, avoided dog traps that had been set for it and wasn't affected by five tranquilizer pills it had been fed.

In two other incidents, owners gave officers permission to shoot their dogs because they couldn't control them.

Keith said his Animal Control officers are called in to handle complaints of vicious dogs because they have the proper training and resources. And while they follow their own protocol, Keith said the decision to shoot an animal should be approved by a supervisor, just as patrol officers should get permission to put down an animal.

Keith said the nine-officer unit handles between 27,000 and 30,000 calls a year, making the number of times they end up shooting an animal an extremely small percentage.

"When an Animal Control officer goes in, he knows it's a vicious dog," Keith said.

"Those on the line," in contrast, "are usually surprised. They're checking a house at night and out of the clear comes an animal."

"A lot of times the officers are responding to alarms," Van de Vate agreed. "There's no information there's a vicious dog on the scene. There's no homeowner there."

While checking the premises, the officer might encounter an animal that attacks, he said.

"He's got no avenue to retreat," Van de Vate said. "He's got no choice."

During one incident in May 2000 and another in June 2001, dogs attacked officers trying to arrest their owners.

"Officers have the discretion when dealing with animals to use the level of force they think is necessary and appropriate," Van de Vate said. "Sometimes they use pepper spray in lieu of a firearm."

But using impact weapons, such as batons, is not advised because that would put the officer too close to the aggressive animal, he said.

"It is not a reasonable expectation that the officer is obligated to let the dog bite him," Van de Vate said. "Every one of these events has to be looked at on a case-by-case basis. But across the board and without exception, discharging the firearm is always a last resort, regardless of whether it's a suspect or a dog."

"Generally, we would never try to second-guess the kinds of split-second decisions trained and qualified law-enforcement officers have to make on the job," said Lynn Mooney, program coordinator for the Central States Regional Office of the Humane Society of the United States. The office oversees Tennessee, North Carolina, Kentucky, Illinois and Wisconsin.

But she said law enforcement and the animal-welfare community would agree that many incidents could be avoided with more training.

To do that, her office is sponsoring law-enforcement animal-handling training next month. This in response to the Jan. 1 incident in which a Cookeville police officer fatally shot a vacationing North Carolina family's pet dog during a traffic stop along Interstate 40.

"It sounds like (the Knoxville Police Department and Knox County Sheriff's Office) are doing well," Mooney said. "But we would encourage them to look to improve their program."

Laura Ayo may be reached at 865-342-6341.
Copyright 2003, Knoxville News-Sentinel Co.

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jhisaac1
February 10, 2003, 03:39 PM
>"I had to hold the dog at bay with my control stick and .22 rifle."

>"To make the neighborhood safe," Sutherland ended up shooting the dog three times.

>The first shot brought on an even more "aggressive" attack on the officer. Two more shots ended the encounter.


A .22?!?!?!!?? No wonder it took 3 shots and only annoyed the dog on the first shot. Next time I'll bet he brings more gun.

jhisaac1

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