Puppycide: Just How Many Dogs Do American Cops Kill?
June 17, 2016 (Fault Lines) — Cops love their dogs for two reasons. First, the dogs love them back, which counts for a lot in a world that hates blue lives and doesn’t think they matter. Unconditional adoration is the kind of thing you can get used to.
Second, they work kind of like a skeleton key for the Fourth Amendment, a way for the police to get around that pesky Constitution that keeps blocking them from doing their thing. Whether it’s generating on-demand probable cause for searching your stuff or subduing viciously unarmed shirtless bike riders, if you’re a cop, your dog’s got your back. Or the suspect’s back. Whatever works.
But left out of the equation was how cops treat other people’s dogs. Aren’t they equally cute, equally worthy of a cop’s consideration? For that matter, how do cops treat their dogs in their private lives, the ones who don’t have a critical law enforcement function? Let’s look at some data.
Back when he wrote for Reason, the libertarian journalist, cop watcher and author of the indispensable Rise of the Warrior Cop, Radley Balko, coined the term “puppycide” to describe one of the strangest and most disturbing consequences of having a militarized police force: the way cops slaughter dogs.
First things first: no one knows how many dogs the cops kill each year. That’s not surprising: before the Guardian created a database to count the victims of police killings in 2015, no one really knew how many humans were being shot, electrocuted, choked or beaten to death. (Compare the lack of official recognition for killings by police with the exhaustive documentation that comes with every killing of a cop.) But one thing’s clear: it’s a lot. A lot a lot.
In October, 2015, a supervisor with the DoJ’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) office estimated the canine death toll at the hands of the police at 25-30 dogs each day. If accurate, that’d mean up to 11,000 dead dogs each year, or almost exactly ten dogs for each human being shot and killed by a cop. However, there’s reason to believe the real number is significantly higher.
There are roughly 18,000 police departments in the US, and no centralized or federal database to which they send data on use-of-force incidents. Making matters worse, a lot of PDs are either slow to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests, charge exorbitant fees for making publicly owned records available, or both. Fortunately, a handful of PDs – especially those in large to medium-sized cities, with enough resources for thorough record-keeping and/or independent monitors breathing down their necks – publish reports without having to be prompted. Together with conventional reporting on animal killings and documents from court cases, it’s possible to try and paint a picture for parts of the country.
This is PuppycideDB’s raison d’être. Along with attractive visualizations of documented puppycide cases across the nation, their database can be used to collect statistics on dog killings by police department. For example, PuppycideDB has documented 12 dog shootings by the Denver PD, and a stunning 216 by the LAPD, since it started operating in 2014.
Because PuppycideDB has very high documentation standards, a significant percentage of probable police killings of dogs don’t make the cut: the database records 10 killings by the Atlanta PD, for instance, while a 2015 investigation by an Atlanta TV network found nearly 100 killings over two years.
According to Josh Weider, PuppycideDB’s director of technology, a data analysis done in late 2015 showed that of a sample of 40 police departments, each PD killed an average of 10 dogs that year. This means that 0.2% of the nation’s police departments accounted for 3.7% of the DoJ’s 11,000-killings number. Absent the original document, which appears to have been taken down, there’s no way to tell if the sample was representative. But if just 10% of American PDs killed 10 dogs last year, they’d be responsible for 18,000 dead, or nearly 65% more than the DoJ claims were killed by cops nationwide.
The police penchant for shooting dogs gets totally inexplicable when you realize that not one cop has been killed by a dog in the past 80 years. According to the Officer Down Memorial Page, the last cop to die in this way was Officer Jackson Bennett of Gainesville, FL, who was bitten by a rabid street dog while on patrol and died April 27, 1936. Domesticated dogs haven’t killed anyone in at least the last century.
In a Washington Post op-ed, Nathan J. Robinson points out that the U.S. Postal Service manages to deal with hostile dogs every day without killing any, even though mailmen, unlike cops, routinely get bitten. Even worse, Robinson cites a DoJ dog trainer who claims the cops’ beloved command presence may be antagonizing dogs, making them act out and get shot – effectively for not respecting the cops’ authoritah.
PuppycideDB also documents cases of police dog killings. Surprisingly, the vast majority aren’t killed by criminals, but die due to negligence on the part of their K9 handlers. Unlike in cases where cop negligence leads to the death of a human being, PDs impose consequences when one of their own lets his dog suffocate in a hot car. Suspensions, firings and prosecutions for animal cruelty are commonplace.
Puppycide can be a very brutal affair. On May 26, the New York Post published photos of a January, 2016 police raid where a team of Detroit cops slaughtered every dog in a couple’s home, leaving the place soaked in blood and riddled with bullet holes. In 2015, former Baltimore police officer Jeffrey Bolger was cleared of all charges after slitting a dog’s throat. There’s even a certain kind of cop who’s willing to deliberately kill his own dog. As this article was being written, one such case popped up: a Loudoun County, VA sheriff’s deputy has been charged with killing his pet dog and throwing the corpse in a dumpster.