Collateral Damage: Police shooting dogs in line of duty

Buffalo Police have opened fire on 92 dogs since 2011, killing the vast majority of them. Is it time to start training?

This story originally aired on WGRZ in November 2014.

On June 3, 2013, an unfortunate but familiar sequence of events unfolded.

The Buffalo Police Department executed a search warrant at an apartment on Breckenridge Street on the city's West Side, looking for drugs. Upon entry, officers encountered a dog, described in this particular incident report as "an aggressive pit bull type." One officer fired his shotgun three times. The dog died.

Cindy was two years old, not even fifty pounds heavy. Adam Arroyo, an Iraq War veteran, adopted her when she was only six months old.

"These animals," Arroyo said, "they become like part of your family."

That week, Buffalo Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda launched an internal investigation into Cindy's death, following accusations that his officers had accidentally raided the wrong apartment and should never have confronted Cindy in the first place. The case received major local media attention— one of the few dog-shooting cases to make headlines in Western New York.

But these are not uncommon scenarios. According to use of force reports requested by WGRZ-TV under the Freedom of Information Law, Buffalo Police shot at 92 dogs from Jan. 1, 2011 through Sept. 2014. Seventy-three of those dogs died. Nineteen survived. In comparison, Buffalo's numbers more than triple the amount of dog shooting incidents involving police in Cincinnati, a municipality of similar size. The New York City Police Department, the nation's largest force, reported killing half as many dogs as the Buffalo Police Department in its two most recent annual discharge reports.

SEE: New York City Police Department 2012 Annual Firearms Discharge Report

"The numbers are what the numbers are," Buffalo Police Chief of Detectives Dennis Richards said. "Certainly, no officer takes any satisfaction in having to dispatch a dog."

During the time period analyzed by WGRZ-TV, one individual officer shot 26 dogs, killing nearly all of them. In the years 2011 and 2012 alone, this officer killed as many dogs in the line of duty as the entire NYPD.

The Buffalo Police Department does not train specifically for canine encounters, according to Richards, even though dozens of other police departments across the United States have recently implemented new training procedures to deal with dogs. Unlike other departments, officers in Buffalo do not use Tasers, spray or other tools to contain animals in a non-lethal manner.

"It has not come to that point in Buffalo," Richards said, "that we've implemented any of those other techniques."

Under departmental protocol, Buffalo Police may legally use their firearms "if the officer or another person is in the process of being attacked by an animal and is in imminent danger." In the case of Cindy, police simply noted in their incident report that the dog was "aggressive," a word which appears dozens of times in the use of force records.

Many of the 92 shootings in Buffalo occurred during high-intensity raids and search warrant executions, which often involve split-second decisions and fast-paced pursuits of armed and dangerous subjects. In some cases, these criminals train their dogs – usually pit bulls -- to protect themselves and threaten law enforcement.

Sometimes, a police officer has no choice but to fire his weapon.

"It's a small percentage of the number of total search warrants executed or actions taken by police," Richards said, noting the department responds to about 1,000 calls per day and has already carried out 357 search warrants this year.

Not every call involved a search warrant. According to a November 2011 incident report, Buffalo Police responded with a dog control officer to an intersection on the East Side, where two dogs had apparently killed another dog. When the police arrived, one of those dogs charged an officer, at which point he fired a fatal shot.

In January 2011, two officers opened fire on two large black dogs in the back lot of the police station after they began to "bark and charge." The officers fired one shot each— both missed. The dogs ran away. And in December 2012, an officer responded to a call at a residence near Delaware Park, which claimed a man was preparing to shoot a dog in the yard. When the officer arrived, the pit bull then "started charging at the officer," prompting the officer to fire a round and kill the dog.

Buffalo Police have shot an average of 24 dogs per year since 2011, a pace of one dog roughly every two weeks. Due to the lack of a national record-keeping system, however, it's difficult to compare Buffalo's numbers to other municipalities.

Cincinnati Police provided WGRZ-TV with a copy of its use of force records, which revealed officers had shot 27 dogs from Jan. 1, 2011 through Sept. 2014.

The New York City Police Department produces an annual discharge report, publishing its most recent version in 2012. According to those reports, the NYPD shot 72 dogs in 2011 and 2012, but fewer than 30 percent of those cases (21) resulted in fatalities. Buffalo Police – which has a fatality rate of 79 percent since 2011 in officer-involved dog shootings – killed twice as many dogs as the NYPD in that two-year span.

Of course, for every Cincinnati and New York City, there are also cities like Milwaukee, where a lawsuit cited by the Associated Press revealed the police department shot nearly 50 dogs per year from 2000 to 2008. In Southwest Florida, the News-Press discovered 111 instances of dog shootings among multiple agencies between 2009 and 2012, representing about 37 per year. According to the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Police shot approximately 90 dogs per year between 2008 and 2013.

Dr. Randall Lockwood, a senior vice president for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, has studied police dog shooting incidents in hundreds of municipalities, dating back more than a decade.

"Your information from Buffalo, unfortunately, isn't that unusual for some cities, particularly where there hasn't been training," Lockwood said.

Although it's impossible to create an official tally of nationwide dog shootings, it's apparent through social media that these cases occur quite often. Using Facebook, dog owners can often rally tens of thousands of supporters after police shoot their dogs, which has helped lead to widespread departmental change in some instances. In Colorado, for example, a string of officer-involved dog shootings collected major media attention and, eventually, led to a new state law requiring police officers to undergo canine training. Illinois passed a similar law last year, and legislation has surfaced in several other states addressing dog shootings by law enforcement.

In Cleburne, Texas, the public has rallied this fall for Justice for Maximus. A police body camera recorded an officer shooting and killing Maximus the Pit Bull, which spurred an investigation. In the midst of the public outcry, the department has enlisted the help of Jim Osorio, a former police officer and one of the nation's most renowned experts on police canine encounters.

MORE: Law enforcement to train for dog encounters

Osorio, author of "Surviving the Canine Encounter" and an instructor for Canine Encounters Law Enforcement Training, will teach officers in Cleburne non-lethal methods for controlling dogs in the line of duty. Using a live dog, he'll show officers how to read dogs' facial expressions, how to approach dogs and how to use spray, Tasers, batons or other tools to safely fend off a threat.

Osorio has traveled the country to implement this same training. He said he's trained countless officers in places like Ithaca, N.Y., Atlanta, Ga., Texas, Washington, Idaho, Indiana and California.

"I felt the need that police officers need better interaction with dogs on the street," Osorio said, "other than just taking out a gun and shooting them."

Lockwood said it's time for every department to get on board.

"Unfortunately, it usually takes a high-profile incident, something that's gone viral, gone public, or a lawsuit, to really have this taken seriously," Lockwood said. "But that's changing. We're now seeing police departments who are looking at this kind of training. Proactively, and pre-emptively, they recognize that it's an important part of community-oriented policing."

Buffalo has not implemented this training, according to Chief Richards.

"I don't know if that would be a recommended course of action. Have you heard of that?" Richards said. "No, I don't believe I've ever heard of using live animals to illustrate how an officer should react."

 

Adam Arroyo was at work when police raided his apartment last June. He claims he chained Cindy before he left that morning.

When he returned home that evening, he discovered bullet holes in his dry wall, not to mention the remnants of Cindy's chain and toys. But he didn't find Cindy's body. After police killed her, Animal Control immediately transported her to the animal shelter. From there, Arroyo cremated her.

According to Arroyo, his apartment complex has two units in the upper section. He believes police intended to raid his neighbor's apartment, but instead barged through his door and shot Cindy.

"We should not get the wrong apartment. I can't justify getting the wrong apartment," Commissioner Derenda told reporters that week in a press conference. "We are looking into what took place. If something took place that shouldn't have taken place, then people will be held accountable."

More than a year later, the Buffalo Police Department declined to provide WGRZ-TV with an update on the internal investigation. Arroyo has since moved out of his apartment.

"How would they feel if somebody ran into their house and did that to them?" Arroyo said. "The message would be, just do your investigation correctly, realize what you're doing, and maybe have animal control or some type of non-lethal method to extract these dogs."

 

On the early morning of July 29, 2014, Buffalo Police assisted on a raid in West Seneca. Same scenario: executing a search warrant, digging for drugs.

"I pretty much heard the two shots," said Ronnie Raiser III, who had just awoken in his bedroom when the officers entered his home. "After the first shot, I heard the dog squeal."

 

During the raid, police killed Raiser's one-year-old pit bull, Rocky. The department's incident report once again described the dog as "aggressive."

Raiser has filed a formal complaint with the Buffalo Police Department and the West Seneca Police Department, alleging excessive force and civil rights violations. In the complaint, Raiser claims the officers raided the home looking for Ecstasy. Instead, he said officers only found a small stash of his roommate's marijuana.

"Not only did they not find any of the items listed in the warrant," the complaint states, "they shot and killed my 15-month-old dog Rocky."

Raiser plans to eventually file a notice of claim.

"I bawled my eyes out," Raiser said. "It's hard. It really is."

According to the use of force reports obtained by 2 On Your Side, the same police officer involved in the raid of Raiser's home also shot Arroyo's dog, Cindy, back in 2013. This is also the same officer who, as previously mentioned, shot 26 dogs in a three-and-a-half year span, more than any other officer in the department.

Richards explained that some officers act as the lead for the entry team during raids, which could place certain individuals in position to encounter aggressive dogs more often than others.

"It's a very dangerous job," Richards said, "and per capita, the amount of work that we do, the amount of search warrants executed, the amount of calls answered by individual officers, I think the numbers are what the numbers are."

Twenty-five of the 26 dogs shot by this officer died. In fact, more than three-quarters of the dogs shot by Buffalo Police died from their wounds. In Cincinnati and New York City, fewer than half of the dog shootings resulted in death.

Richards said he couldn't explain the high percentage of fatalities. In Cincinnati, the police department's policy explicitly directs officers not to take head shots at dogs, if possible.

READ: Cincinnati Police Department's Policy

 

 

Chief Richards said the Buffalo Police Department would consider using non-lethal tools to contain dogs, noting that his department has researched other cities before for feedback.

"We're always willing to look at other tools available and other technology available and other ways of doing business," Richards said. "Tasers have come up in the past from time to time – the use of Tasers – but I think they're still a controversial topic."

In New York City, written procedures direct officers to "attempt to prevent an animal attack using non-lethal options, including batons and OC spray." The ASCPA considers the NYPD a shining example of a progressive police department as it pertains to animal protocol.

"We have been involved in training NYPD officers for many years," Lockwood said. "On a per capita basis, New York is far lower in incidents than that of lot of other cities."

For Buffalo, the department will have to live with its own number: 92 dog shootings in three-and-a-half years. Seventy-three fatalities.

"It's nothing to be happy about when a dog has to be let go. But, again, we should stress that it's the owners of those dogs. It's the drug dealer that is putting that dog in harm's way," Richards said.

On June 3, 2013, the search warrant of the Breckenridge apartment on the West Side yielded no drugs, Arroyo said.

"Cindy was the first dog that was mine… she was actually my dog. First dog ever, and she was a great dog," Adam Arroyo said. "She was friendly. All the kids in the neighborhood used to come up and pet her. She wasn't a threat, you know?"

Photojournalists Franco Ardito, Scott May, Dave Harrington, Dooley O'Rourke, J.T. Messinger and Ben Read contributed to this report.

 

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