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Austin police adopt new dog policies

By John Woestendiek www. ohmidog.com

Austin is on the verge of becoming a lot dog friendlier - and in a way much more important than most of those measured by websites and magazines in assessing dog friendliness.

The Austin Police Department announced recently that, effective July 1, there will be several changes to policies and training concerning how officers deal with dogs.

The new rules clarify that lethal force can be used only if there is "imminent danger of bodily harm" to officers or another human, not when a dog is simply acting aggressively.

It also suggests alternatives to deadly force, including firing a Taser or using pepper spray, or simply yelling at a dog.

Assistant Police Chief David Carter said dog shootings by officers will get increased scrutiny, and any officer using deadly force against a dog will have to explain why lesser force was not used. Each incident will be reviewed by the entire chain of command, as opposed to just the officer's sergeant.

Other improvements include having dispatchers inform officers when they are going to homes that have histories of dangerous dogs being present. In those cases, city animal control officers will also be sent there.

In addition, cadets at the training academy will undergo a two-hour session on how to deal with dogs, including how to read a dog's body language and judge whether it is dangerous. Current officers will complete training sessions online and before shifts, he said.

"It raises the stature of dog shootings," Carter said. "We need to be as accountable for the shooting of a dog as any other force."

The changes in Austin come in the wake of a backlash over the fatal shooting of a man's dog in East Austin in April, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

Officer Thomas Griffin was dispatched to a domestic disturbance in late April but was sent to the wrong address, where he shot a blue heeler named Cisco after the dog, according to his account, charged at him.

Cisco's owner, Michael Paxton, has denied that the dog was being aggressive.

Carter said the investigation into the case found no policy violations and Griffin received no discipline.

Since then, though, the department has been looking at the policies of other law enforcement agencies around the country to determine the best practices when it comes to dog encounters, Carter said.

"Quite frankly, we learned a lot from this process," he said. "We learned a lot from the community, who had great concern about it."

Paxton, meanwhile, has filed a complaint against Griffin with the police monitor's office and has retained a lawyer.

"It's sad that my dog had to die for this to happen," he said.

Pictured: RIP Cisco
Photo courtesy of ohmidog.com