As shocking as this question is, that’s exactly what was asked at last week’s meeting of San Francisco’s Commission of Animal Control and Welfare.  In the first 4 months of 2014 San Francisco police officers shot 3 dogs – all pit bull mixes, and all of whom died as a result of their injuries.   For over an hour commission members and the public raised questions about how SFPD officers are trained and how their response to dealing with dogs differs from that of San Francisco’s Animal Care and Control officers. While both respond to vicious dogs only SFPD officers carry guns.  In response to these concerns, an SFPD officer assigned to the vicious and dangerous dog unit (which works out of Animal Care and Control, but is still an SFPD position) explained that new recruits get 2 hours of training on how to deal with dogs and current officers get 1 hour of training every 2 years.  But this training, probably for many reasons, is not adequate.

It is clear that when an officer’s wellbeing is threatened they need to respond accordingly.  The issue seems to be that perhaps the SFPD is not training their officers to recognize when they are being threatened by a dog.  At least 2 of the dogs shot by SFPD do not appear to have been threatening the officers when they were shot.  One of the dogs was shot in the back of one its back legs – in other words it appears to have been shot while walking away from the officer.  In the other instance a pair of dogs were involved in an incident: one dog was apprehended by an Animal Care and Control Officer (the one without the gun) the other was shot by SFPD when it was lying on a bed on top of a picnic table in Golden Gate Park.  While it is hard to second guess the actions of an officer who needs to respond in a split second, this is not an excuse to avoid asking hard questions about how well SFPD is equipping its officers to respond to situations involving dogs.  Maybe it’s time for SFPD to improve the training its officers receive on how to deal with dogs (and presumably other animals as well).  San Francisco reportedly has more dogs than children, but sadly it probably has more homeless people than dogs.  It is clear that SFPD trains its officers on how to deal with the homeless, I hope that they are trained on how to deal with children – maybe it’s time to include some additional training on how to deal with San Francisco’s four legged kids too.

Thanks for reading!

2 Responses to “Why Are San Francisco Police Officers Killing Dogs?”

  1. David Burns

    Thank you for this thoughtful and balanced post. Of course, we all want our police officers to protect themselves from any truly dangerous threat, whether it is an animal or a human.
    But the fact is that the training and performance of San Francisco police officers in deadly force application is appallingly bad. There was an incident a few years ago where a San Francisco police officer felt threatened by a dog, and through execrable marksmanship shot a young girl instead. The girl fortunately was not severely injured, and she actually got the dog under control and took it out of the room after she had been shot.
    The poor training and incompetence of some SFPD officers is a danger to all of us as well as to dogs. I know from experience there are dedicated, capable members of the SFPD, but I feel sorry for them because they are tainted by association with the hapless incompetents on the force.