Why Are Cops Shooting Dogs? 5 Things You Should Know
The internet loves dogs. It does not, by and large, love cops. Well, if you Google "cop shoots dog," you'll see a shitload of headlines perfect for internet outrage:
And if they shoot a cat, Reddit would probably firebomb every police station on the planet.
Depending on your friends, it can be hard to go more than a week or two without seeing one of these awful stories show up on Facebook. So, what the hell is going on here? Is it really that common? If so, why are so many cops shooting dogs? We sat down with a woman named Tiffanie, who nearly went to jail for putting her own body between a state trooper's gun and her beloved dog, as well as a veteran police officer, in order to get his take. It turns out that ...
Police Shoot Pet Dogs ... A Lot
There's no exact count for how many dogs are killed by police every year, though, in 2014, an official with the Department Of Justice declared the shooting of dogs by police an "epidemic." But, hell, no one really knows how many human beings are killed by cops each year, so it's not exactly surprising that we're even less sure about man's best friend. Still, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) estimates that as many as half of all police firearm discharges involve a dog. When we brought that statistic up to "Tim," a police officer for 16 years, he said that sounded about right.
Police dogs become very good at changing the subject whenever their moms ask how work's going.
So, why would police get into so many gun battles with canines? Well, for one thing, the threshold for an officer to fire on a dog is ridiculously low: If the cop feels threatened, he's justified in shooting. That sounds reasonable on the surface, but you have to realize how low the threshold is for "threatening" behavior in some of these cases. Our source, Tiffanie, learned that firsthand when the state police showed up at her house for a domestic disturbance. This wasn't some situation where they were confronted by a snarling pit bull protecting a drug den -- it was her family dog, chained up in the front yard, barking at strangers the way dogs do.
And it's not like the police were there because of the dog -- there had just been an argument between her stepfather-in-law and a neighbor. The situation was pretty much under control when the cops arrived. One of the troopers walked onto Tiffanie's lawn (heading toward the house to get her stepfather-in-law's driver's license) and past her dog Buddy. Buddy, in normal dog fashion, "started barking at him and wagging his tail, which just means, 'Warning! This is my family!'" Buddy was chained to a pole, but the trooper either didn't care or just didn't notice.
Pictured: Buddy, clearly a vicious monster that cannot be contained by mortal man.
Tiffanie was standing in the yard with her 3-year-old son. The trooper yelled for someone to "control the dog" and drew his gun. Tiffanie told us, "I just looked over, and I see a gun pointed at Buddy, so I step in between the trooper and Buddy."
And that's when shit went awry.
Many Cops Find Dogs Fucking Terrifying
First of all, you don't have to take Tiffanie's word for what happened -- the whole thing was captured on video.
You'll see where, right after arriving, the trooper had his gun drawn (gangster style, it seems) and pointed at Buddy.
Just because gangster-style doesn't work, doesn't make it less of an asshole move.
This probably seems super-duper fucked up to all the animal lovers out there in the audience. Tim didn't endorse or condemn the trooper's reaction here, but he did provide some context for how your thinking toward canines changes on the job. For one thing, it's not uncommon for drug dealers to keep very large, ill-tempered dogs as guard animals, " ... the first things a lot of raids encounter is a dog, and there's not a lot of time to ascertain if it's a nice dog or not ... so, they put it down." When they approached Tiffanie's dog, there might have been some, uh, profiling involved.
He may share DNA with Old Yeller, but that doesn't mean he deserves the same ending.
Tim also shared this nightmare of a story from his time walking the mean streets of Baltimore: "I did see a woman get her arm ripped off at the elbow ... she was just running, I think it was a rottweiler -- it came out of the woods, appeared out of nowhere, grabbed her arm, and did an alligator twist until it was ... dangling from like, flesh. And then the dog was gone."
It should also be noted that cops are human beings and, as a result, tend to be dog lovers under other circumstances. Meaning, they don't enjoy shooting a dog any more than you would. Tim told us of one altercation with an aggressive pit bull, "who was acting all fucked up ... no one would get out of their cars. It came out over the radio to put it down ... I think someone had already been bitten. The one guy who did have a shotgun ... he unloaded it and took off one of its legs. It was like nothing happened -- this dog attacked, [the officer] proceeded to get on top of his car, fire ... and missed. And throughout all this, there's another officer crying his eyes out, 'Don't shoot him, don't shoot him!'"
That dog was eventually put down. The officer who did it was depressed for weeks, even though the scenario sounds like something out of the third act of a Cujo sequel. So, there's one side of the coin. Then, Officer Tim also told us the story of one of his fellow officers, Jeffrey Bolger, who cut a dog's throat on a crowded street for no good reason. To try to erase that mental image, here's some cops rescuing a puppy from a stolen car:
In Tim's opinion, it just comes down to fear. "I know a lot of guys who seem to have a phobia ... you can totally have this job and have an unreasonable fear of dogs." When you combine that (sometimes irrational) fear with a person who has deadly force as an option -- with little chance of facing consequences for using it -- you get situations like this.
Fortunately, Tiffanie's dog was not shot. Unfortunately, she very nearly was.
Police Do Not Like Being Confronted
Tiffanie loves her dog, Buddy -- enough that she didn't think twice before putting her body between him and a loaded gun.
Because if there's one thing that cops who threaten those smaller than them love, it's having options.
If you have a dog that you love and consider to be a part of the family, you probably sympathize with her. Still, rushing a goddamned cop with his gun drawn is a horrible idea, even if it's, say, one of those guns they use to fire T-shirts at sporting events. This was the kind that fires bullets.
The trooper didn't open fire, but he did decide to try out his judo on Tiffanie:
Yeah, he's not great at judo. But, he was able to handcuff and arrest her. "He said I was cussing him out when I stepped in between him [and the dog]. My words were, 'Not on this property; I will take a bullet for this dog' ... That's when he starts shaking me and pulling me backward ... swinging me around to the police cruiser to arrest me." And then, when they were in the cruiser, "he even said ... that I was about got shot then and there. He was just about to pull the trigger."
Shortly after arresting Tiffanie, the trooper realized he had been filmed. As you might guess, he did not react to this development with quiet stoicism ...
Some Police Officers Reeeeally Hate Being Filmed
It was Tiffanie's husband who made the decision to start filming as soon as the police arrived. Your right to film the police making an arrest, or doing whatever, has generally been upheld by the courts. But, that's not always the case, and it's not uncommon for really pissed-off officers to arrest the people filming them. The trooper didn't try to cuff Tiffanie's husband, but he did "walk inside and ask for everyone's phones ... he just starts grabbing every phone and charger he could find."
Because if a grown man's going to forcefully arrest a tiny woman for protecting a tiny dog,
phone theft really isn't going to make him lose any sleep.
They took the phones and kept them. Yes, the police can do that. "They said they had probable cause to take them, because it was used for a crime. I have no idea [what crime]. He wouldn't tell me. He wouldn't even tell me why I was being arrested ... After I got out ... I bugged them every day for a month, two months, until I got those phones back."
During that time, the department was trying to get into the family's phones, which were password-protected (yes, just like in the San Bernardino shooting case). "They said we would get our phones a lot sooner if we gave them our passwords ... otherwise, they would have to take the phones to forensics, and it would take us a couple months to get our phones back." Tiffanie and her family opted to wait, rather than give the local PD access and, possibly, the ability to delete the video.
Tampering with evidence is nothing compared to the real crime here: animals existing.
They did eventually get the phones back. In the meantime, Tiffanie was charged with obstructing an officer in his "duties," a word that here apparently means "shooting the shit out of a tied-up dog." It was a good thing, because ...
Sometimes, The Internet Is Your Only Hope
Tiffanie went to trial. She was assigned a public defender because, in our great society, every man, woman, and child is entitled to free legal representation when charged with a crime. That doesn't, however, mean the deck isn't still stacked horribly against you. "I found out [the public defender's] husband was the state trooper's boss. He works for the state police department." She requested a new lawyer based on what she saw as a conflict of interest -- her request was denied. At that point, Tiffanie says the public defender advised her not to release the video and urged her to take a plea bargain, warning "... if I was to choose not guilty, that I was facing a year in jail, plus the fine."
"You see, it's right here in subsection three, paragraph 12, line fuck-you-that's-why."
The trooper had actually listed "obstructing an officer" and "battery" on the charge sheet. The judge, says Tiffanie, "made the other trooper scratch that out in front of him." Still, she was facing a serious charge against a police officer and in a court system that overwhelmingly sides with them. It was her word against his ... until she posted the video to YouTube, where it immediately made a splash on a blog dedicated to this kind of thing:
"Cops are filmed on location, everywhere, whether they like it or not."
A private attorney named David Shiles was shown the video by his wife, and he roared in to represent Tiffanie. The trooper's position was that he was reacting to the dog as he was trained to and that Tiffanie had raised her arms as if to assault him somehow. We know from the video that second part isn't true. As for the first part?
Well, in Baltimore, a city with an estimated shitload of dogs, Officer Tim told us he received "absolutely zero training" in how to deal with them. More departments have started training their cops to deal with dogs via something besides shooting them repeatedly, but most of these changes are super recent, and we're guessing a lot more dogs are going to heaven before this problem gets any better.
"Alright men, remember your training -- do not shoot the poodle just because!"
"What if I make it look like a suicide?"
Anyway, thanks to the video, the jury only needed 30 minutes to acquit Tiffanie. The trooper involved went right back to work because he had apparently done everything by the book. So, while it's true that pulling out your phone to start filming the moment you see a police officer is a good way to piss them off, it's also really hard to argue against it. All things being equal, juries will simply tend to believe the word of a uniformed officer on the witness stand over that of some random nobody. A video record is often the only chance to tilt the case in your favor (assuming, you know, the video doesn't show you launching yourself at the officer holding a machete or something).
So, it's all over now ... aside from the fact that Tiffanie's son is now terrified of the police, having watched them almost shoot his dog and then throw his mom to the ground. "It's like seeing a boogie man. And he gets scared that they're going to take mommy away again."
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