On a summery day like yesterday in Los Angeles, crowds of tourists flock to popular Venice Beach. Despite putting these visitors at risk, an LAPD officer opened fire in the middle of the afternoon on a Pit Bull who he said bit his hand. The bullet passed through the dog and hit the leg of a woman who was riding by on a bicycle.
The woman was taken to UCLA Medical Center, where she was in stable condition yesterday. The dog did not survive.
The unidentified officer who somehow thought it was a good idea to use his gun on a crowded boardwalk has been assigned to non-field duties as this case is being investigated. He will “have to be able to articulate why they used the force they did, and why they did not use other options if they were applicable at the time,” Detective Meghan Aguilar told KTLA.
There’s currently no video available of the shooting incident. It happened after two mounted LAPD officers told a group of people who were blocking part of the bike path to move their belongings. A couple of people in the group became belligerent, and the dog became agitated. When the officers got off their horses, the dog allegedly bit an officer’s hand.
“I heard a struggle, and the next thing I knew, I heard a shot. And I saw the dog laying there,” Tara Borris, a witness, told KCBS. “I think the dog was just protecting his owner. I didn’t hear any growling.”
Terah Clark, a woman in the group, told KCBS the dog’s owner was holding the dog back by his collar when the officer fired.
This case was described by KCBS as “very unusual” because an innocent bystander was also shot — but these cases are not unusual at all. In June 2015 a 4-year-old girl was shot by a cop who was aiming for her family’s dog. Three months before that, a woman in Iowa was killed by an officer’s bullet intended for her dog.
The KCBS report shows the owner sobbing as he holds his dead dog, who Clark said he’d had for 10 years. One person in the group was arrested for an outstanding warrant and another for resisting arrest, but the dog’s owner wasn’t one of them.
It’s a horrible statistic, but more than 10,000 pet dogs are shot by police officers in this country every year, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. There’s even a term for it: “puppycide.” To prevent this, some police departments are training their officers in non-lethal ways to deal with scared pets.
In response to the shocking, viral 2013 video of a Hawthorne, Calif., police officer shooting a Rottweiler named Max as his owner begged him not to, spcaLA began offering the class, “Dog Behavior for Law Enforcement” to all police departments in California. (The mounted LAPD officer patrolling Venice Beach yesterday may have skipped this class.)
In 2013, Colorado became the first state to pass a “Dog Protection Act,” which requires similar training for law enforcement officers. Two years later, Texas enacted a law that required the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement to establish a statewide comprehensive training program in dog encounters.
These programs are a good start, but as those sad statistics make clear, teaching law enforcement officers how to humanely deal with dogs should be required in every state.
Fortunately, many police officers inherently know the right way to handle frightened animals. Just last week, two deputies in Florida saw two scared, stray Pit Bulls in the middle of a street. While that LAPD officer would likely have shot both of them, Deputy Boggs and Deputy Reed with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office stayed with the dogs, comforting them until animal services arrived. Good cops, indeed.
Photo via YouTube