Today's law enforcement officers are the best trained in history. Training that begins for recruits from day one, throughout their entire careers. Training that encompasses nearly all aspects of LE, from classroom theory to hands-on practical. Training far more comprehensive and thorough than that of only 30, or even 10, years ago.
However, to my knowledge, there remains one area where LE receives little, if any, training. And that is how to deal with vicious dogs, and dogs in general. Dissenters would answer there's no need for specific dog training, since use-of-force training and policies cover all circumstances.
The result is LEOs hit the streets with the best training in history under their belts - except for how to handle dog encounters.
Today, we live in a society with more pets than ever before. Pets today are considered "family members" and not mere animals, as they might have been years ago. Despite today's struggling economy, America's pet industry is booming, with no signs of slowing down anytime soon. America definitely loves its pets-especially its dogs.
So it's no surprise that police are often criticized when they use force to protect against vicious dogs, as happened recently when Georgia and California police shot and killed "family dogs" and Ohio police tasered a "friendly" dog. These are just two of the many police vs. dog confrontations that happen daily throughout America.
When it comes to dealing with vicious dogs, LE is divided into three camps. The first says dogs are Animal Control's responsibility. After all, they're better trained and equipped to deal with dogs, and all animals.
The second says Animal Control is not always available, that LE is usually first on scene, and therefore it's LE's duty to deal with the situation. As a result, LE needs more and better training and tools to deal with dogs.
The third says LE doesn't need any more training or tools. Just use whatever force is necessary to resolve the problem-including deadly force. Do what you have to do to end the problem.
I absolutely agree that police have the right, and the duty, to protect both society and themselves against attacks of any kind, using whatever force is necessary-including deadly force. The right and duty to protect society and ourselves is absolute. However, I also believe LE needs more, and better, training and tools against dogs.
While I don't know what percentage of officer-involved shootings involve dog shootings, I suspect the percentage is higher than most realize. Shooting a fast-moving, swirling, low-gravity, charging, vicious dog is far from easy-especially when adrenaline and fear are pumping sky high.
Given the lack of dog-specific firearms training, misses are frequent in dog shootings. No doubt, many of you know of dog shootings involving more misses than hits. Not good, given the potential for unintended victims and the requirement of accounting for every bullet fired.
Only those with "ice" in their veins will allow attacking dogs to get close enough to ensure zero misses when employing deadly and less-lethal force. Since LE can't run away, many employ deadly force as soon as the threat manifests.
This is neither a criticism nor indictment of those who shoot dogs. Very often there is no choice except to shoot. However, I also believe that more and better training and tools would reduce the number of dog OISs. It's time for LE agencies to recognize that today's society is increasingly critical of LE use of force, except as a last resort.
Whenever another "family/friendly" dog is shot by LE, the condemnation by critics is immediate. I believe the days of the "just shoot them" policy are over. And if we don't solve the problem, someone from the outside will do it for us.
Given the mounting criticism leveled at LE for shooting dogs, the time has come for LE agencies to explore alternatives to deadly force, except when absolutely necessary.
Current and past alternatives that have been tried - with varying degrees of success - include TASERs (effective), pepper spray (semi-effective, with side issues), batons (mostly effective if properly employed), Co2 fire extinguishers (highly effective, but bulky to carry). There are other counter-measures, to include the old-fashioned "boot kick" and placing obstacles between yourself and the dog.
All methods have their pros and cons and varying degrees of effectiveness. Whatever counter-measure you use, you must believe in it and become proficient using it. Including with firearms. Simply put, you need to hit what you're shooting at. With fast-moving, attacking dogs, this requires "icy" accuracy, up to and including contact shots in some cases.
My next column will address various specific counter-measure tactics and tools against vicious dogs - including both less and lethal alternatives. Also, when, where, why, and how to employ these alternatives.
I'm a big fan of the Co2 fire extinguisher, especially for SWAT, and will provide my experience with the remarkable success my team has had for nearly 30 years using Co2 (thanks to LAPD SWAT's recommendation). I'm also a fan of a designated dog shooter as backup to the Co2.
I strongly believe our best learning comes from the experiences of others - both good and bad. So I want to hear from you - the cops on the streets - what works and doesn't work for you. What experiences you've had with dogs. What training and tools you have, or wish you had.
Your input is valuable and also secure since this, and subsequent columns on tactics, are "LE Only."