Detroit police refute allegations that officers shoot dogs at alarming rate

Police attribute dog shootings to high number of drug raids

DETROIT – Detroit police are refuting allegations that their officers are shooting dogs at an alarming rate during police runs.

Local lawsuits allege Detroit police officers have unnecessarily killed dogs on numerous occasions. The Local 4 Defenders have inspected the records and reports, and police told Defender Kevin Dietz that the city's extremely high number of drug raids has resulted in the city's high rate of dog deaths.

Per capita, Detroit is among the highest-ranked cities in America when it comes to police shooting dogs in the line of duty, which has cost taxpayers thousands of dollars in lawsuits. Some taxpayers are calling for more police training.

Dashcam video from a past manhunt shows Detroit police thinking the suspect is hiding in a backyard. Video shows a barking dog tethered on a chain to the side of the house. An officer radios in to dispatch and says, "I'm going to put this dog down."

The dispatcher radioed back, and the officer fired two shots.

The dog's owner wasn't a part of the crime, and his dog was not loose.

"The problem with that particular shooting is that it wasn't necessary under the circumstances," attorney Chris Oleson said.

Oleson sued the city and won over $100,000 for the dog's owner. He said unnecessary dog shootings happen too often in Detroit.

In another lawsuit, Oleson sued after police shot a dog that was secured behind a closed door.

"One of the dogs was in a bathroom, and the police officers shot that dog to death through the door," Oleson said. "Now their story is that the dog opened the bathroom door and was coming out to eat them."

The Defenders pulled destruction of animal reports and found dozens of dogs are shot by police every year in Detroit. Most of the shootings happen during drug raids.

Assistant Chief James White said killing dogs is an unfortunate reality in a dangerous drug war.

"In 2016, 1,144 known narcotics locations, but during those raids, the teams unfortunately shot 31 dogs," White said.

He said if it were happening on regular police runs it would be a problem, but not during drug raids.

"This isn't Fluffy the family pet in many instances," White said. "Door comes off the hinges. There's pandemonium. People are running. Perpetrator, in many instances, has a weapon himself, can start shooting. Sometimes the dog is used as a tactic to get the advantage over the officers, and I just don't think it would be acceptable to an officer to put their life at risk to try to stop a dog from attacking them during a drug raid."

"We don't quarrel with the police officers' right to defend themselves at all," Oleson said.

Oleson said his lawsuits have uncovered a lack of training when it comes to alternatives to shooting dogs. He said one Detroit police officer has killed 69 dogs.

"In my view, when you have shot 69 dogs in your work, I think that's hunting," Oleson said.

"We don't find in our department that any officers are 'hunting dogs,'" White said.

White said the officer responsible for 69 dog shootings has the most dangerous job in the department.

"First in the door, and they are the shotgun men on those raids, so they would be the first to encounter the animal," White said. "So consequently, they would have more numbers."

He said the policy that officers can shoot dangerous animals that pose a threat, as long as bystanders aren't in jeopardy, is a good policy.

"We're not perfect," White said. "If there was an instance that the actions were unreasonable, then it's important that we as managers take the appropriate corrective action."

Police said the policy won't change, but they will consider looking at programs that have worked in other cities in hopes of reducing the number of dogs killed on the streets of Detroit.