Editorials

Apologizing for SLO police shooting of a family dog isn’t good enough. Release the video

The San Luis Obispo Police Department will not release body-cam footage of last week’s fatal shooting of a family’s pet dog, the city said Wednesday.

Too bad. Without the video, we’re left with this he said/she said version of events:

According to police, the unleashed dog — a pit bull-boxer mix — charged at the officer as he approached an apartment on Santa Rosa Street to investigate a report of a possible burglary.

One of Bubbs’ owners, Riley Manford, disputes that account. She told The Tribune she was outside with the dog at the time and asked the officer to put down his gun.

She said she was walking toward Bubbs when the officer fired three shots, two of which struck the dog. Bubbs died hours later.

The Tribune requested body-cam footage of the incident, but the city determined the video is exempt from disclosure under the Public Records Act. And while the Police Department is investigating the incident, because it’s a personnel matter, the results of the investigation won’t be released either.

That’s unfortunate, because the shooting of a family’s beloved pet has struck a nerve in the community.

The reaction is no surprise — you don’t have to be a dog lover to appreciate how devastating it was for this couple to be in the privacy of their own home and have police officers suddenly enter their yard and shoot a pet they considered part of their family.

Most of those commenting on the case are coming down on the side of the dog — and against the police officer.

The video could end the speculation.

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Riley Manford, 27, and her boyfriend, Nick Regalia, 33, talked about how their dog Bubbs was shot Thursday outside their rental home on the 600 block of Santa Rosa Street in San Luis Obispo. Laura Dickinson ldickinson@thetribunenews.com

If the dog was indeed charging at the officer, that should be readily apparent in the footage and would justify his response.

Instead, we’re left with the impression that this was a rash act that could have been prevented had Manford been given time to restrain her dog.

And even if the dog had been charging, weren’t there other ways the officer could have defended himself?

By using pepper spray, for instance?

Or a baton?

Why does a gun too often seem to be the first response?

In an email, Police Chief Deanna Cantrell said the officer has been placed on administrative reassignment while a review is conducted.

She also offered the department’s apologies.

“This was a tragic situation for the family and our officers and we are sorry for the family’s loss,” she wrote.

The department may implement some additional training for officers; Cantrell said she’s been looking at training programs, including one developed for postal workers.

Excellent idea — postal workers deal with aggressive dogs on a regular basis, and they manage do so without relying on deadly weapons for protection.

For police officers, though, it’s a different story.

Bubbs’ shooting wasn’t some rare incident; police shootings of dogs happen often across the country.

The ASPCA reviewed records of police shootings at various departments and found that as many as 50 percent of incidents involved police firing at dogs.

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Three white ricochet marks from bullets fired by a San Luis Obispo police officer are visible in the driveway of the home of Riley Manford, 27, and Nick Regalia, 33, on the 600 block of Santa Rosa Street. Police shot and killed the couple’s dog after responding to a burglary call at the address. Laura Dickinson ldickinson@thetribunenews.com

A Department of Justice office described the killing of dogs by police as “epidemic.”

Some of those shootings injured and even killed bystanders; in Arlington, Texas, a woman was shot and killed in August by a police officer who had been aiming at a dog.

Given the potential for harm, shooting animals should be taken extremely seriously, yet studies show police officers are rarely held accountable when family pets are destroyed.

“Policies that require only that an officer ‘feel’ threatened set a very low threshold for justifying the killing of dogs,” the ASPCA reports.

Consider the current California police code: It authorizes officers to shoot an animal if it “reasonably appears to pose an imminent threat to human safety and alternative methods are not reasonably available or would likely be ineffective.”

That’s much too vague.

Officers who aren’t familiar with dogs might be much quicker to shoot than their colleagues who have more experience with dogs.

That’s why it’s so important for all officers to have adequate training in animal behavior, along with practice in how to deal with aggressive dogs.

All local law enforcement agencies should learn from San Luis Obispo’s experience.

They should make sure officers have the knowledge and training they need to safely deal with the dogs they regularly encounter on the job.

Dogs — and their human companions — will thank you for it.

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