If the transition from childhood to adult brought any changes, one of the most valuable was a healthy skepticism about the police. It probably helped that I was living in Los Angeles right when LAPD officers beat up Rodney King live on camera, and then later when the Rampart Scandal made that look like a playground infraction.
A lot of pet owners are starting to learn that same skepticism, thanks to increasing numbers of reports about police using lethal force against dogs without justification. Nevada is now looking at a law that might cut down on the number of dogs killed by police by requiring officers to be trained for a minimum of three hours in recognizing and responding to animals rather than just taking a “shoot first” attitude.
One of the most prominent Nevada cases happened on May 21, when a Las Vegas officer drove his cruiser into an Australian Shepherd named Freckles. The officer claimed that Freckles had jumped the fence and was heading toward several children. His owner, SaraRose Hecht, spent more than $1,000 in veterinarian bills to save Freckles’ life, but to no avail. She told the Las Vegas Review-Journal, “I have no doubt my dog would still be alive if the officer had one iota of training on dog behavior and dog psychology. There was no reason for deadly force.”
In an investigative report by KTNV, Ed Wheeler of Henderson, Nevada, told about how his dog was killed in September. A SWAT team and the police used his backyard to secure the area while serving a warrant next door. When the officers ran through his yard, his dog Miracle tried to bite them. The police shot and killed her.
The new bill, which is based on one passed in Colorado last year, is being sponsored by state Sen. David Parks. Parks plans to introduce it in the next legislative session.
“In many instances, a dog is being territorial, not vicious,” Parks told the Review-Journal. “It would help if police knew what category of dog they were dealing with.”
More and more, Parks says, the police are using paramilitary tactics that endanger the communities they’re supposed to protect.
“Far beyond the SWAT team and their paramilitary approach to situations, it seems like there’s an attitude growing across the country that it’s okay to shoot somebody’s pet.”
Bill Cassell, a spokesman for the Las Vegas police, says that dog killings don’t happen that often, and that people need to remember that dogs can be weapons as well as pets. A police officer has only a few seconds in some situations to determine which it is.
“It is not in the nature of a police officer to want to kill a dog,” he said. “There are a few times where it is the only option.”
Watch a video report from KTNV here.