|Richmond a Little Bit Less
Dangerous for Dogs
February 8, 2006
Following a dog shooting last year, the Richmond Police Department internal investigation found no fault. See Richmond Also Dangerous for Dogs December 3, 2005 and Canine Killing Caper Piques Interest of Bay Area Media , December 9, 2005. The Police Commission, however, reached a different conclusion, finding that the Police Departmentís policy regarding shooting dogs was flawed.
The commission finding, while sustaining the substance of the complaint, apparently skirted such sensitive issues as police misconduct, either in the incident itself or the flawed internal investigation that followed.
Richmond cops rethink handling of animals
Richmond police plan to re-evaluate their rules for shooting animals after an investigative panel found that officers lacked proper policy guidance when they killed a pit bull this past summer.
After a closed meeting last week, the Police Commission sustained the owner's appeal of a department finding that cleared the three officers who shot her dog in July.
The commission found no fault with the officers -- it did not investigate their conduct -- but attributed the death of Cynthia Peters' dog to "policy failure."
"The policy was clearly deficient," commission investigator Don Casimere said. "There needs to be much more information, more guidelines, provided to officers."
Police Chief Chris Magnus, who did not work for the department when it investigated the complaint, said he intends to incorporate the commission's suggestions and consider more training for officers about dealing with dogs.
"I think our policy is well within the mainstream. A lot of other agencies have crafted very similar policies," he said. "But we can always do a lot more in terms of policy and training, and we're looking into that now."
Department regulations for shooting at people are detailed. Police train extensively to hone their decision-making skills for dealing with potentially threatening humans.
But policy for shooting animals is comparatively sparse, permitting officers to use force against any animal if it appears threatening.
"Our officers do not want or intend to shoot dogs and always look for any other reasonable way to deal with the situation," said Detective Kevin Martin, president of the Richmond Police Officers Association. "But sometimes there is no other recourse."
This was not such a case, said attorney Karen Snell, who last month filed damage claims with the city on behalf of Peters and her boyfriend, Mark Parr.
"What I have seen so far is that there are serious problems with the current policy that need to be addressed," Snell said.
Peters and Parr say officers faced no obvious threat July 27 when their dog, Blu, bounded out from a side gate of their Sixth Street apartment building. Members of the Violence Suppression Unit had chased a drug-dealing suspect inside.
Police said the dog lunged, while several witnesses said it did not.
Those differences came to light in December, when during a public report to City Council the department's Professional Standards Unit revealed that it did not interview Peters' witnesses.
Her complaint was not sustained. Nor was that of Parr, who claims police jailed him because he asked why the officers shot his dog. Police deny impropriety.
Both Peters and Parr appealed to the commission, a panel of residents appointed by the mayor to investigate civil rights complaints against city police.
But because of statutory time limits for investigating complaints against police in California, the commission did not consider whether the officers should have been disciplined, Casimere said.
"It was really shameful for (former Chief Terry Hudson) to say they had done an investigation when they hadn't interviewed Cynthia or other witnesses. ... Then they took the officers' words as gospel," Snell said.
A similar shooting in Richmond contributed to federal case law in 1994, when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that officers violated a dog owner's Fourth Amendment rights by killing his pet. The city paid him $525,000.
Reach Karl Fischer at 510-262-2728 or firstname.lastname@example.org.