Phoenix police hope to stem dog shootings with more training

The Arizona Republic

Isiah Quigg, 12, and his mother, Lisa Hardesty, play with their dog "Molly" at home. Their other dog, "Pete" was shot by a Phoenix Police officer.

Christina Leonard

The Arizona Republic

Nov. 27, 2002 12:00 AM

Police say they're trained to stop threats. And they don't necessarily distinguish between humans and animals.

But as the number of officer shootings of dogs rise, Maricopa County officials say they want to help stop it.

Phoenix police have teamed up with the county's Animal Care & Control to develop new training for police officers on how to deal with aggressive dogs. The Phoenix Police Academy, which trains officers from across the state, is still working out the details with animal control.

"Quite frankly, a lot of the time they panic," animal control spokeswoman Julie Bank said. "It becomes instinctual to shoot a dog. We're not expecting them to become animal control officers, but we want them to understand when it's appropriate to do that."

In 1999 and 2000, Phoenix police reported eight fatal dog shootings each year. That number jumped to 13 in 2001, and police have recorded 12 so far this year. Other shootings have occurred with other departments.

"No police officer looks forward to killing a dog," Phoenix police Sgt. Randy Force said. "Most officers I know own dogs themselves. Officers being attacked by a dog are in a tough situation. All the training we receive and all the equipment we are issued are designed to help us deal with human threats, not canine threats."

Lisa Hardesty, whose dog was killed by Phoenix police this summer, said the training is long overdue.

Related links Fatal dog shootings by Phoenix police Poll: Are police too quick to shoot animals?

"We have an awful lot of excessive force that's being used," she said. "Why do utility people, who are not armed, seem to go in and out of the same yard with no problems?"

"There's got to be a way short of taking out your gun and start shooting."

At the time her dog was shot, police and Hardesty's 10-year-old daughter, Phoebe Quigg, who witnessed the shooting, gave differing accounts of the incident.

However, it is clear that Officer Christopher Kawa shot Pete the Dog, a mixed breed, twice in the head outside Hardesty's central Phoenix home. The officer had knocked on the door, and Pete the Dog and a second dog came from the back yard and approached the officer.

Police said one dog stopped, but Pete the Dog was barking and "exposing its teeth in a threatening fashion." Hardesty said the dog just wanted to play.

Six days after the incident, Kawa was involved in another fatal dog shooting while investigating a drug case in central Phoenix.

This time, Kawa told investigators that he heard a growl from a dog about a dozen feet away.

"Officer Kawa turned to his left and saw what he believed was an 80-pound dog immediately leap to its feet from (a) resting position and advance quickly toward him while barking and snarling," according to a police report. "Officer Kawa, who was too far away from any vehicle to jump on top for safety, drew his weapon and pointed it at the dog while attempting to see if the dog was chained to any object."

The dog wasn't. And Kawa fired two rounds at the dog, believing the dog was going to attack, the report said.

Kawa has been involved in three dog shootings since 1999. Police found the shootings were found within policy. Police attribute the high number to the officer's involvement in drug-enforcement cases in which suspects often use dogs to guard their homes.

Force says police are happy to learn tactics to deal with dogs, since officers routinely encounter them. And most of the time, officers will reach for their firearm if attacked, he said.

"Our officers don't get paid to get bitten by dogs," Force said. "Dogs are what they are. They're protective of their people. They're protective of their homes."

Force said that police are often the first to respond to vicious dog calls, which they consider an emergency. He added that animal control is often slow to respond to a call. Bank said animal control's contract with Phoenix does not guarantee response times.

During another vicious dog call in September, an animal control officer and police officer suffered minor injuries after police shot a pit bull in a Phoenix neighborhood.

Two pit bulls were loose, but were corralled into the back yard. As the male dog tried to escape, police officers surrounded him with their guns drawn and two officers fired, Bank said.

"We have had quite a few incidents like this . . . when safety has been at risk," Bank said. "So we're excited about the training because the training will allow the officers to understand when they need to worry and when they don't.

"Our animal control officers haven't had to shoot a dog in the past 10 years. The training is going to be a really positive, wonderful thing."

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