June 12, 2007
war on dogs?
In a comment to my earlier post about the shooting of a dog by Philadelphia police, NickL pointed out that "it seems that it is now standard practice for police to shoot the family dog when turning up to arrest someone," and cited two very disturbing posts by Radley Balko. The first one discusses two incidents -- one in which the officers charged into a private backyard in "hot pursuit" of a suspect who lived elsewhere, then shot the dogs who lived there for defending the yard (a primary reason people keep dogs), and another incident in which (quoting this report) a SWAT team in Maricopa County, Arizona forced a 10 month old pit bull puppy to be burned alive, Waco style:
[I]n the ultimate display of cruelty, a SWAT team member drove a dog trying to flee the home back into the inferno, where it met an agonizing death.Balko notes that aside from the torching of the building and the torturing of the dog, all the police had to show for their efforts was the arrest of one suspect -- for traffic violations. My reaction is to find myself hoping that somehow this is all made up by Balko or someone else. I don't want to think that I live in a country where police act like this. I'm trying not to be emotional, and I realize that this was just a dog. And I'm quite aware of the irony that I should be more sympathetic with the people and I therefore agree with the spirit of Balko's remarks about that distinction:
On a slightly lighter note, I relayed my "they always shoot the dog" observation to a colleague here at Cato. He told me he's discoverd something as he's given interviews and speeches over the years about the Waco massacre.It's like, sure, they have a right to burn up gun-toting religious crackpots, but the dogs? That goes too far!
No, I do not think that way, although to be fair, while dogs are not human (and legally they are property) they are nonetheless innocent in a way that humans are not, because they have no human awareness of criminal intent.
However, it also occurs to me that men who think it's funny to watch a puppy burn to death might not be the right candidates for law enforcement work, and I hope that their boss (celebrity sheriff Joe Arpaio) will or has fired them, assuming the allegations turn out to be true. Call me a bleeding heart liberal for saying it, but I would not want to be taken prisoner by people who entertain themselves by burning puppies to death.
The other Balko post cites two more incidents -- one in which the police entered the wrong house in the quest to track down a burglar alarm signal and shot a Rottweiller simply for behaving as a watch dog. And in the second incident, police shot a pit bull for defending another yard they entered in "hot pursuit," then beat the owner for coming to the aid of his dog:
Blu was in the couple's fenced yard on Sixth Street when the officers opened the gate to pursue a suspect, then shot the dog 11 times with pistols and a shotgun. When Parr ran up and asked the officers, "Why'd you shoot my dog?" police "pointed their guns at him, kicked and punched him and threw him to the ground," the suit said.It's not funny, as it could happen to me, my dog, or anyone's dog.
I say this not simply to promote my libertarian crank theories, but because I was once mistaken by the police in hot pursuit of SLA bankrobbers as a member of the SLA -- in my own backyard. Oddly enough, I recalled the story about three years ago when contemplating another dog shooting incident:
If some cops came into my yard and shot my dog, I would want to get even any way I could. Police tend not to apologize in these situations, because they feel they were just "doing their job."There's no getting around the fact that it just isn't nice to shoot someone's dog, especially when there was no criminal culpability involving the dog's owner.
One of the most horrendous examples involved a law abiding man who left his wallet on a gas pump after he'd filled up. This set in motion a series of "bureaucratic errors" leading to a felony stop, and the shooting of his apparently friendly dog who jumped out of the car because the police would not allow the "suspects" to close it:
In the video, released by the THP, officers are heard ordering the family, one by one, to get out of their car with their hands up. James Smoak and his wife, Pamela, and 17-year-old son Brandon are ordered onto their knees and handcuffed.The Tenneseean has more including an analysis of video discrepancies between what the police initially reported and what happened. More here.
NickL's comment to my earlier post concluded ominously:
I'm sure there's plenty more as well. Maybe that's what the police get taught during training nowadays?I certainly hope not.
But I notice that police seem to be given wide latitude in shooting dogs -- especially if the dogs are "pit bulls."
A police account of another shooting is titled Vicious Pitbull Attacks Officer:
Los Angeles: A vicious Pitbull was shot while officers were searching for a burglar.Again, it appears that at most this dog was defending his backyard. How does the defense of a yard morph into "vicious"? By the assertion that the dog was "inches away from biting his leg"? (The dog bit no one.) Or by the additional words "pit bull"? Well, what was it? A "vicious pit bull"? Or a dog defending his own yard?
Do dogs have the right to defend yards without being labeled vicious? Or do only pit bulls forfeit this right?
I found the following YouTube video in which the police gave one of these usual accounts, but if you watch it, you'll see that the neighbors dispute it rather vehemently, saying that the police shot a friendly puppy who came to them when it was called.
This whole area strikes me as a perfect scenario for a law school question. Under what circumstances do the police have a right to shoot dogs? Obviously, they'll always say that the dogs were attacking, but if the police have invaded private property without a warrant, and the owner of the dogs is given no notice that they were there, how is the dog supposed to know that they were "good guys" and not the bad guys it is their job to protect against? Nothing is more dangerous than police in hot pursuit or police acting under a mistake, as unlike criminals, they're acting under legal authority, and if you don't know they are there, anything might happen.
What about the right of the dog owner to defend his dog? Legally, it has to be kept in mind that dogs are property, and there is no right to use lethal force in defense of property, even if that property is about to be destroyed or irreparably injured. Thus, if an unlawful trespasser enters my backyard and I see him pointing a gun at my dog's head, I am not allowed to shoot him -- even if that would save Coco's life. That's because Coco is a dog, and the trespasser is a human. Frankly, I agree with this distinction, and no matter how awful it would be to see Coco get shot, that does not entitle me to commit murder to prevent it.
As a practical matter, though, I am allowed to use reasonable force to defend my property, and I suppose I could run out into the yard, point a gun at the guy, and scream "DROP THE GUN!" What I could not do would be to shoot him. However, if instead of dropping the gun, he turned from Coco and pointed it at me, then I could shoot in self defense.
But what if the trespasser about to shoot my dog was a cop? Same rule?
Don't ask me.
I'm not in law school and I don't have to answer law school questions.
My worry, though, is that the burgeoning dog control movement may be fueled in part by fearful police, who are after all human beings and who read the same scare stories as everyone else. Moreover, they are routinely (and more and more frequently) being ordered to utilize military methods and tactics while conducting raids on residences without notice to the occupants, many of whom have dogs which are dangerous to dangerous invaders.
I worry that the war on drugs is fueling a war on dogs.
BSL is based upon the urban myth of the "pit bull", which is not a recognized breed of dog. Under the guise of banning "pit bulls" any breed may be thus identified. There are at least seventy-five actual breeds, plus any mixed breed now either banned from ownership, or restricted in ownership in the United States. That is about 1/5 of all recognized breeds.I won't list them all, but the full list of breeds appears here.
I guess the idea that a man's home is his castle has become an anachronism.
UPDATE: Longtime commenter Chocolatier opines that pit bulls can be spotted by a "know it when you see it" test. The problem is that there's no way to define it legal terms.
If you doubt me, take the famous "FIND THE PIT BULL" test.
I had trouble with it.
BTW, I've owned these dogs since the mid 1970s (when they weren't controversial), and when she was a girl my mom was photographed with "Pete" -- the famous Our Gang dog -- at the Atlantic City Steel Pier.
Nowadays, I find myself judged by the breed of my dog -- a judgment which results not from anything my dog has done, but what other people's dogs have done. Unfair by any standard. And as Radley Balko made clear, it's at least as unfair as gun control:
...when pit bulls are criminalized, only criminals will own pit bulls.And of course, if every "pit bull" was rounded up and killed, does anyone think the dog killers would stop there?
(Which means that even if you're allowed to use reasonable force to protect your dog, you may not use a camera!)
UPDATE: Link to Nick Schweitzer's fine post fixed, with thanks to Nick for pointing it out.
posted by Eric on 06.12.07 at 10:37 AM
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