After the controversial shooting of a pet dog named Cisco earlier this year, Austin Police are announcing training and policy changes to the use of lethal force on dogs.
Austin Police Department Chief of Staff David Carter says the department is quickly implementing policy and training changes – in hopes an incident like the Cisco shooting doesn’t happen again.
“Before an officer takes action, there needs to be an imminent threat of bodily injury,” Carter says, “whereas in the past, it would describe that the animal was dangerous.” Additionally, officers would need to “justify the position of using a firearm, versus using some other method to repel a dog, if that’s necessary. For example using a nightstick, or chemical spray, or a tazer, or some other thing such as that.” Additional responsibility now also falls on the officer’s supervisor to investigate such shootings, instead of having the officer self-report on the circumstances of the shooting.
The shooting of the pet blue heeler, Cisco, on April 14 by APD Officer Thomas Thomas Griffin received international attention. As KUT News wrote at the time, Griffin shot Cisco while responding to a domestic dispute call at an address the department was given. But the address he got was incomplete, leading him to the wrong side of a duplex.
Upon entering the property, he found Cisco and his owner, Michael Paxton. As heard on Griffin’s dashboard camera, the officer shouts “Show me your hands,” before the sound of a barking dog occurs. Officer Griffin can then be heard yelling “Get your dog!” and a shot occurs immediately afterwards. Cisco’s owner Paxton soon created a Facebook page to share his story, which as of this writing has over 105,000 likes.
APD ultimately found no policy violations in Griffin’s shooting of Cisco. But Chief of Staff Carter tells KUT News “we did find some opportunities to look at the way the department conducts business, the way that it trains its officers in terms of dealing with dogs, as well as looking at the use of force options for officers.”
“Would there have been a different outcome based on this policy change?” Carter asks. “Well, nobody can say for sure.” But he emphasizes changes in training may also make an impact.
“What we’re doing now is something that we did not do before,” he says. “We’re taking the collection of information that we used to scatter throughout a cadet class curriculum and combining it, so now there’s going to be a two-hour course on handling of dogs at calls, dealing with them and understanding dog behaviors: whether that dog is being friendly, whether it’s being defensive, whether it's being aggressive. Being playful – those kinds of things… That’s probably the brightest thing that's actually coming out of this – were going to basically give our officers that may not be familiar with dogs better tools and understanding so that they can respond and look at the situation perhaps differently – not necessarily, but perhaps.”
The changes take effect July 1, but Carter says the training – required of all officers – will begin in the next few days.