Retired Deputy: Some Police “Jumping Off the Deep End” on Dog Shootings

Jim Crosby, a 23-year police veteran, says that when officers are confronted with dogs, deadly force should be a last resort: “Let’s use our brains.”

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Editor’s Note: This is Part 3 of “Gunned Down,” a special series from Petful. If you haven’t read it yet, we urge you to start with Part 1.

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Jim Crosby worked as a police officer in the Jacksonville, Florida, sheriff’s office for 23 years and retired as a lieutenant.

He has become an expert on dog behavior, aggression and fatal attacks — and he doesn’t mince his words when it comes to police officers who pull the trigger on dogs.

“I’m not the type of person who is typically critical of the police,” Crosby says. “If anything, I’m more likely to be reflexively defensive of them, because I was one for many years. Part of the result of that is that I know the training they get and don’t get, and I understand how their world works. So I can kind of look at it from both sides now.”

Recently, Crosby spoke with Sue Davies on her Ask Sue Show. The following is an edited partial transcript; it appears here by permission. To listen to the full, original radio show, go here: Awareness of Dogs Being Shot by Police.

Interview With Jim Crosby

Sue: Has it really just started, or have these shootings been going on for quite a while?

Jim: I’m not sure. I think it’s probably a combination of a couple of things. There have always been intersections, if you will, of where police officers and other officials, postmen and UPS people and whatever, come in conflict with dogs. It’s always happened; it always will. Some of those cases go better than others.

I know in my career there were a number of occasions where I came potentially in conflict with a dog that wasn’t the most friendly in the world. Fortunately, I never used deadly force against any such dog and was never placed in that position. I’m not sure if we’ve got more of these happening now or if simply people are more sensitive to it because of the publicity that’s been around some of the incidents.

Sheriff's Lt. Jim Crosby (retired)
Sheriff’s Lt. Jim Crosby (retired). Credit: canineaggression.blogspot

The other thing that may be a part of it is that with the Internet and Twitter and Facebook and with the huge ability to reach out, literally all around the world in just a flash, maybe it’s just becoming easier for us to hear about these when they are happening.

I don’t know because there really hasn’t been a quantification that I’m aware of, of how many per year happened by who and where. I do know if you put “dog shooting police” into Google, it comes up with many, many hits, so those all didn’t just happen this year.

Sue: We’ve had police that may have had an alarm go off, and they are doing the job. They go in and check in the house and they’ve gone through the back gate to check the back of the property. There’s been a dog in the backyard and he’s come up to them, and the police are just — I don’t know how to put it really, if it’s scared or what it is — they are just shooting these dogs.

Now to be fair, I know my dogs; I’ve got a Rottweiler and I’ve got two Labrador crosses. If you go to the back gate — yep, they’re protecting.

Where does it come to the point that it’s a pet and it’s protecting and then it’s their safety, Jim? Where is this line? Because I think most dogs are protecting their property when they’re there, and a lot of these killings happened because of that.

Jim: Yeah. And that’s one of those things that we need to really work on. To begin with, I can tell from my own experience having been there as an officer and also talking to police officers, your typical police officer gets no training on how to deal with a difficult animal. I guess it’s just assumed that you know it from divine intervention or something.

But there’s no training given anybody, that I’m aware of — nothing cohesive. Now there are beginning to be little bits of some training, and I’m actually putting some together myself. But in the past there hasn’t been, so that’s been a tool the officers haven’t been given even though they are given extensive training on everything else you can think of.

That said, though, you know dogs are going to be naturally protective of their own property. Yet police officers also have legitimate reasons to go on that property. So we’ve got to work on giving the police officers the information they need in a couple of real specific places.

Number 1 is how to perceive a valid threat from a dog. Most dogs — and not all; there’s always one that is going to blow the curve, if you will — most dogs, if they feel threatened by you, will run and charge at you. Dogs have a personal space, just like people.

And most of the time, they’ll run up and stop three or four feet away to see what you are going to do. Because really, unless there’s a screw loose or they’ve been encouraged elsewise or whatever, they really don’t want to get in a fight. They want you to go away because you’re something that’s frightening them, or worrying them or concerning them, so in their minds they come up and give this aggressive display and then stop to see if you’re going to back off. Because if you back off and they can back off, survival-wise the species goes on its merry way and nobody gets hurt.

Statistics on police shootings of dogs, 2013

So one of the things we need to do is to educate officers on how to perceive the distance, that reaction, that behavior. The safest thing to do is if you see something like that, you basically brace yourself and freeze and don’t look straight at the dog — but don’t turn around and run, and don’t keep coming to it. Both of you are probably going to stop, and then it’s very common that you’ll be able to slowly back off and go back to the edge.

Now, a police officer has to do his job, but sometimes the level of response to that job has to be different. We know here in the United States that when it comes to sounding alarms in homes, somewhere between 95 and 99% of them are bad. Every police officer out there knows that for the most part, most residential alarms are false alarms. It’s been set off accidentally, the wind did it, whatever.

So if you pull up to a house where you’ve been 37 times or maybe you’ve never been, you see that there’s a sign that says, “Beware of Dog,” you look and you see a doggy bowl. They have to teach these officers, Okay, let’s stop, fellas, and think. Look around.

Yeah, you’re going to look to see if there’s a burglary happening in progress, and every once in a while there is. But take a second and rattle the fence and go, “Here doggy.” Now, if there’s a dog, you back up and you say, Okay, can I see the back of the house from the neighbor’s yard? Can I make friends with this dog and get into the yard safely? Is the dog just going to stay away from me?

According to Jim Crosby, OC spray is extremely effective on dogs.
According to Jim Crosby, OC spray is “extremely effective with dogs.”

If there has to be a confrontation, instead of going to deadly force first, use pepper spray. Oleo capsicum spray, which police carry, is extremely effective with dogs. I have never seen a dog get sprayed in the face with pepper spray that didn’t stop, kind of wrinkle its nose, and look and paw at its face and wind up walking off and usually rubbing its face on the grass and trying to make the stinging go away.

It’s non-lethal. It’s very effective, and there’s no permanent injury involved — and the police officer can go about his business. The dog will be fine in about 30 to 40 minutes.

So we need to inform the officers on these less-than-lethal alternatives and when that is more reasonable. Again, so when you walk up to the place and you see they have a “Beware of Dog” sign out, you rattle the fence and whatever but nothing happens. When you’re going in the fence, you still pull out your spray in one hand and you can have your gun in the other hand just in case there’s a real bad human. You’re ready and you’re prepared and you’re mentally ready not to get surprised if the dog is asleep or whatever.

It’s just a matter of giving information, training and alternatives. Unfortunately, that’s not happening. Too often these people are just going straight for deadly force.

Sue: There was a 15-year-old German Shepherd. The police had had a call out; the burglary alarm had gone off. They’d gone through the back gate to check the back of the property. This dog had come up to them, and they shot it. And all it was was a door ajar.

Jim: And the thing is this, how much easier would it have been when that 15-year-old dog came around the corner to just give it a quick squirt with the pepper spray? Or even try looking at it and going, “No! Sit!” or “No! Bad dog!” Sometimes the dog will stop and go, Oh wait a minute.

There’s a very clear “matrix of force” that here in the U.S. is taught to police. And it’s: We are allowed to use whatever force is reasonably necessary to effect an arrest or to protect ourself or whatever. And that starts with, “Excuse me, Miss Davies. I have a warrant for your arrest. Please place your hands behind your back so I can handcuff you, and we can go down and get this taken care of at the station.”

And you go, “Oh, thank you very much, Lt. Crosby. I would be happy to go with you,” and we can both go on in a civilized manner — which is how it usually works in Britain.

But here in the United States, you wind up with, “Miss Davies, I have to take you under arrest.” And then you turn around and swing at me! And then we go through the minimum necessary force, whether it’s simply telling you to knock it off, or grabbing you and handcuffing you, or spraying you with a chemical agent, or even using a Taser on you. But there’s a lot of real estate between “Hello, Miss Davies, would you come with me?” and Bang, you’re dead.

We use that with humans, so we have to give these officers the information to understand that although dogs aren’t humans, they are still people’s property. They are still people’s companions, and let’s try using our brains.

We’re supposed to be the ones with the big brains — let’s try using them and using reasonable levels of force instead of jumping straight off the deep end.

Next… In Part 4 of our special series, Stacy Fields writes about losing her dog, Kincaid, in a New Year’s Day shooting that stunned her Baltimore neighborhood: “I walked over to Kincaid’s body, and the awful sight of blood made me queasy. Crying and petting him, I told him how sorry I was that this had happened to him…”

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Lt. Crosby has written about this issue in depth on his blog, Canine Aggression Issues. See Dogs, Police, and Use of Force (Part 1) and Dogs, Police, and Use of Force (Part 2).

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