A recent review of the Racine Police Department SWAT team found that from 2012 to 2016, 13 dogs were shot and killed during 22 encounters with dogs during tactical incidents, including search warrants.
That means over 50 percent of the times that police encountered dogs in these circumstances, they ended up dead.
That information came out after Sara and Joseph Harmon sued the City of Racine and four Racine police officers in federal court following the fatal shooting of their dog, Sugar. Their dog was the 13th dog the SWAT team had shot during the 22 encounters.
During a search warrant execution, Sugar reportedly jumped off a couch and ran down a hallway to a bedroom. Instead of closing the bedroom door to contain the dog, a SWAT team member standing in the hallway killed the dog after she appeared from behind a bed and advanced toward the officer.
There are circumstances when shooting a dog may be the necessary move to protect the officer. But when 13 out of 22 dogs are shot and killed, that is too many.
Itâ€™s a sign that the SWAT team and the department as a whole need to take a closer look at its policy and conduct additional training to help prevent the shooting of more dogs.
When a dog is shot, the effect can be felt far beyond the one household.
The publicâ€™s confidence in them erodes when they shoot dogs, said Jim Crosby, director of canine encounter training for the National Law Enforcement Center on Animal Abuse.
The agency is an arm of the National Sheriffsâ€™ Association, which recently announced a new police training program for dog encounters that focuses on the non-lethal options available to police officers when they are confronted by an aggressive dog.
For instance, pepper spray is highly effective, Crosby said.
â€śA lot of the training is simply informing the officers that the same tools theyâ€™ve been using for an entire career and the same principles about using the least amount of force necessary applies to animals, too,â€ť Crosby said in a Wisconsin State Journal report that ran last weekend about the Racine SWAT team.
That is training that the Racine Police Department and area police agencies should look at doing to protect themselves and dogs they encounter.
In commenting on this story, Racine Police Chief Art Howell defended his officerâ€™s actions and said, â€śTragically each year, a number of law enforcement officers are killed in the line of duty. Many line of duty deaths occur during the execution of high-risk search warrants, where known gang members, drug traffickers or other dangerous individuals or groups are known to be armed and dangerous.â€ť
Officers need to protect themselves. But they also need to protect the community, and that includes four-legged friends.