When I was approached to write my opinion on the proposed Police-Canine Encounters Protection Act (AB 1199), I was a bit apprehensive. My immediate thought was that I would anger my fellow animal lovers and dog rescuers out there with my opinions, which are heavily rooted in my many years spent being a police officer in the state of California. It is very difficult to try to explain to people what it is like to be a cop, and to deal with the things we deal with on a daily basis. There is a huge divide between police and the public these days, and while AB 1199 is directed towards police, there isn’t anything aimed at helping the public understand what they can do to help lower the rate of police involved dog shootings.
AB 1199 proposes, in a nutshell, that the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) would establish and keep updated a mandatory course training peace officers in dog behavior and tactical considerations when encountering dogs. All peace officers would have to have this training and have supplementary training as deemed necessary. At face value, I see nothing wrong with this idea. It could absolutely be beneficial for a police officer to learn about dog behavior. What it will not do, is change the fact that, unfortunately, there are times when lethal force against a dog is justified. And many of those justified uses of force will not be viewed as justifiable by the public. When an officer is confronted with an aggressive dog, using such proposed ideas as blowing a horn, or hiding behind a chair, are just not practical solutions. Especially if an officer is already engaged with an aggressive human, adding a dog into the mix is going to vastly lower the number of options available to the officer. What will help even more than just giving officers extra training, is the public actively seeking to understand how they can help themselves and their pets, and change their own behavior.
As a dog owner myself, I want my pets to be as safe as possible. They are part of my family, and I love them as such. I know how they respond to strangers; loud noises; new situations. I know their behaviors and triggers. I know they would protect me to the death if I or any one of my family were ever attacked. For these reasons, I don’t leave them outside when we aren’t home. They are unpredictable in certain situations. Even if they were total angels, I wouldn’t be able to 100% for certain say they wouldn’t become agitated or aggressive should I ever be arrested, or in their eyes, “attacked” by a police officer. So, I don’t let them meet people at the door. I wouldn't walk them up to a scene being actively worked by police. And if for some reason the police were ever at my home, whether to just say hello or to take someone into custody, if any of my dogs became aggressive and approached those officers I would expect them to defend themselves. There has to be some level of common sense on our parts. No amount of dog behavior training is going to familiarize an officer with your animal. We need to take steps to understand our animals and attempt to look at things from an officer’s perspective too.
Law enforcement and the public can work together to make this situation safer, and decrease the number of unjustified dog shootings. If AB 1199 passes, the officers will be doing their part to make a difference. I recommend the public do theirs by seeking their own training in dog behavior and reaching out to their local law enforcement agencies to find out what they can do to better understand the mindset of officers, and what makes a shooting justifiable. Maybe go on some ride-a-longs in an attempt to better understand what an officer faces everyday, and how difficult it is without adding a dog into the mix. If both sides work together, if we take the time to learn, if we take responsibility for ourselves instead of placing blame, the outcome can only be positive.
-NLOL Staff Member