Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Dog Days of Summer

Last week, the inestimable Radley Balko hit briefly on Prince George Count clearing it's own officers of wrong doing in the Cheye Calvo raid last summer. Long term readers will remember this was the case where the mayor of Berwyn Heights, Maryland had his two labrador retrievers shot and killed by county police during a botched drug trade. The mayor was innocent of any wrong doing, having only been on the wrong end of a drug trafficking conspiracy when a package wound up at his house.

Balko has been excellent at documenting such law enforcement abuses, utilizing his blog over the past several years to point out the numerous occasions innocent dogs have been shot by police. As a dog owner- specifically a lab owner- I've followed these incidents intently and it's pretty damn clear that, like door-busting drug raids, these incidents are far too common. Balko points out, time and time again, that 1- police are held to a seemingly lower standard than you or I would be when shooting people's pets and 2- that it makes no sense that trained law enforcement officers can't understand the difference between a dog attacking and a dog looking to play.

It's really all about the drug war (it always is) and Balko's other theme of police militarization. To delve into a personal anecdote for a minute, I take my two labs to work with me 3 or 4 times a week and have been doing so for the past year and a half. My black girl, Devon, is 6 and always behaves herself, but my chocolate boy, Callahan, is only 3 and just growing out of being a puppy. Both dogs are super friendly to everyone who comes into the small, two-story building where I work, but Callahan is occasionally spooked by loud noises down the hall and with a few loud barks is off at a sprint to investigate. In the time since I've been bringing him in, I can honestly say he's spooked fewer than 5 people, even with all the running and the barking. Dog people can instantaneously recognize his sweet nature when they see him and even non-dog people can pick up on it pretty quick (probably because he tends to stop running once he can see you, gives you googly eyes and plops down in front of you so you can pet him). So of the dozens upon dozens of folks he's met at work, only several have been really scared by him.

I don't bring up my little story to make a point about numbers, only to point out that it seems to me that there are a lot of dog people in this country and even amongst non-dog people, there are plenty of them who can tell the difference between a dangerous and a not-so-dangerous dog. And I just don't think the police are any different from the rest of us - it's not as though there are just some overwhelming number of police that don't know dogs. No, what these dog shootings are about are attitudes and expectations. It's the difference between community policing and fighting a war on drugs. When we train police to fight a war, they're going to behave as though they are in a war zone. It's not about individual officers not knowing about dogs, it's about the atmosphere that encourages this thought process that the police are at war.


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