Reports of police shooting dogs without justification are becoming more widespread, and they’re starting to become expensive, not only in terms of legal expenses and settlements, but community goodwill. For police to be a positive force, it helps if the community feels that they can be trusted to help, instead of gunning down them or their pets.
As the saying says, “If the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” And if the only tool you have is a gun, every problem is going to look like it needs to be shot. In Illinois, at least, new legislation aims to make sure that the police will be able to face dogs with tools less lethal their guns.
Effective Jan. 1, the Illinois Law Enforcement Training Standards Board will be required to create materials that teach officers humane responses to dogs, as well as how to deal with dog neglect or abuse.
The legislation comes in part because of cases like those of Shamarra Evans and Stephanie Smith. Evans recently accepted a settlement of $5,000 from the North Chicago Police Department (North Chicago is a separate city from Chicago itself) after an officer shot her Pit Bull in 2011. According to Evans, the officer shot her dog, Mama, while Mama was playing with a friend’s dogs. The officer claims that Mama was coming toward him and that he shot in self-defense.
City Attorney Chuck Smith told the Lake County Sun-Times the shooting was justified partly because Mama was a Pit Bull, and that means drugs: “Officers are trained to be protective. Many drug dealers have a Pit Bull and this was a Pit Bull. The officer said the dog was coming at him and that’s why he did what he did.”
As court settlements go, the $5,000 that Evans got is a pittance. She accepted partly because the defense attorneys were able to pressure her with a past arrest.
The case of Stephanie Smith and her dog Lokey is still open, though. Lokey was shot on March 20 when police raided Smith’s apartment to take her brother into custody for drug charges. Smith says that Lokey was standing by her side, wagging his tail, when State Trooper Adam Hendrick shot him “multiple times in the head and body.” She’s seeking damages for emotional distress, loss of companionship, and illegal seizure of property. The last charge refers to the killing of the dog. Because the law doesn’t give dogs civil rights, wrongful death charges don’t usually apply in court.
No matter what your opinion on the individual cases, it seems clear that there are far too many of them, in Illinois and other states. The law that goes into effect in January makes Illinois the second state (after Colorado) to take legal action to reduce unjustified shootings. There’s also a law under consideration in Nevada. Let’s hope that we see more states addressing the problems, and encouraging police to use much less unnecessary force, on humans and dogs.
Via the Lake County Sun-Times
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