We’ve written more than our share of stories about cops shooting dogs here at Dogster, but the case of Officer Tarek Hassani of Filer, Idaho, it’s different. There’s video of the shooting, and people are watching it. And for the most part, they don’t like what they see.
The dog was Hooch, a black Lab trained as a service dog to aid his owner, Rick Clubb, who has Parkinson’s disease. Hassani came to Clubb’s house on Saturday in response to a call about loose dogs running around. When Hooch and two other dogs barked and growled at him as he approached Clubb’s house, he shot Hooch.
To be as fair as possible to Hassani, here’s what he says happened, in his own words:
“I get out to talk to the people, two dogs come around me, one of them’s growling and snarling. I kick it. It comes back around, now it’s growling and snarling. I kick it again. Then it lunges at me, I’m like, fuck you. So, I just shot it.”
The video is from the dash cam on Hassani’s car, which means that it’s locked into a single P.O.V. and a lot of stuff happens off screen. But from the video, it sounds like the first kick came before the growling. The dogs retreat back to the yard, and Hassani keeps advancing. He kicks Hooch again, and when the dogs don’t stop barking, he shoots him at point-blank range.
The department has cleared Hassani of all wrongdoing. Police Chief Tim Reeves told the press, “My decision was that he did a good job, and he was totally justified in putting the dog down.” Reeves says that he considers the matter finished, but he seems to be the only one. You can find angry discussion of the shooting on sites of multiple political persuasions, including liberal standbys like The Huffington Post and The Atlantic as well as far-right blogs such as Free Republic and Prison Planet. A Facebook page titled “Officer Hassani Get Out of Filer Idaho” has, as of this writing, 7,173 “likes.” A petition on Change.org to fire Hassani has 1,755 signatures. All of this has happened since Saturday.
I am so tired of writing this story, and stories like it. I am tired of writing about cops who go for their guns without hesitation or thought, and the video makes me nauseous and sick. But nevertheless, I think that the Facebook page and the petition are wrong-headed. Firing Hassani might be satisfying, and ultimately it might be a part of the solution, but by itself, it misses the point.
The focus on Hassani makes it a story about a rotten apple in the department, a bad cop who shoots first and asks questions later. But if the problem were that simple, I wouldn’t have to keep writing these stories. If the department fires Hassani, it will train another one just like him, or several more just like him.
Whether a dog or a human being is on the receiving end of the barrel, the response by police departments is always the same: To remind us that police work is hard and dangerous, and that sometimes mistakes are made. The same argument is trotted out whether the victim is a service dog in Idaho or Oscar Grant in Oakland.
And I agree, to a point: Police have a dangerous and very important job. But the importance of that job is exactly why we deserve to expect that police live up to a higher standard. The job of the police is to allow us to live in safety. We deserve to also be safe from them.
Hassani wasn’t busting a mob kingpin, nor was he trying to rescue anyone from a burning building. He was approaching the house of a man whose dog had slipped out of the fence and was running around loose. He had options, but he didn’t bother with any of them. He just shot the dog.
One reason behind this is most police officers get more training in how to use their gun than in how to avoid using their gun. In an excellent article about the phenomenon of police shooting dogs, Radley Balko noted last year that few police departments avail themselves of free training programs from the Humane Society or the ASPCA on how to handle dogs:
Contrast that to the U.S. Postal Service, another government organization whose employees regularly come into contact with pets. A Postal Service spokesman said in a 2009 interview that serious dog attacks on mail carriers are extremely rare. That’s likely because postal workers are annually shown a two-hour video and given further training on “how to distract dogs with toys, subdue them with voice commands, or, at worst, incapacitate them with Mace.”
Until police departments take dogs as seriously as the Postal Service does, there will be more killings.
Here’s a link to the video from the officer’s dashcam that shows him kill the dog. It is extremely disturbing. Watch it at your own discretion.
What do you think? Was Hassani reckless, or was it a justified shooting? Tell us in the comments below.
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