OAKLAND -- By their very nature, police procedures to handle a crime in progress run contrary to recommended techniques for approaching a dog in someone's backyard -- animal officials suggest making lots of noise to let a dog know you're entering the yard and standing up straight as you move closer to the animal, but police need to move silently to sneak up on a burglar, and crouch low when passing windows.
"See, that's a problem for us," Oakland police Chief Anthony Batts said Friday morning at a news conference at the East Bay SPCA to announce a new partnership between the police department and the SPCA, training officers in animal behavior.
The program comes in response to the fatal police shooting of a family dog in the Oakland hills Sept. 28 while officers investigated a burglar alarm, as well as the shooting of a deer in an East Oakland neighborhood last May.
"Those techniques are completely opposite of what we need to do for officer safety if there's a bad guy inside the house," Batts said. "We definitely can't make a lot of noise going in, or stand up past a window. So we need to find a way to balance those issues."
Beginning in early November, the SPCA will provide all patrol officers with training to help prepare them for encountering animals -- both domestic and wild -- during the course of their jobs.
"This is not a one-off course," said Allison Lindquist, executive director of the East Bay SPCA. "We'll provide an initial training, then continuing education after that. We're fortunate to have a police department that is very receptive to working with us on this. It is easy to be very critical of the tragic shootings of these innocent animals, but we cannot assume that any particular officer or member of the general public has had any experience or education regarding animals. So we hope this training can help prevent any such incidents in the future."
"I want to give officers as many tools as we can," Batts said. "I don't want officers put in a position of being an expert on animal behavior, but I want to provide them with a list of options and alternatives. People don't realize how often, in every city, officers have to encounter dogs and other animals."
In 2009, eight dogs were shot by police in Oakland, said police spokeswoman Holly Joshi. It was not clear how many were killed.
During the news conference, three dogs with different behavioral patterns were brought out to demonstrate warning signs. Sarah Wharton, canine manager at the SPCA, brought out Bombay, a very fearful dog who may have been mistreated. "You can see that her tail is down, she's clearly looking around and checking everyone out nervously," Wharton said. "Fearful dogs tend to be the most dangerous if they are cornered or restrained. If their escape route is taken away from them, they can react with aggression."
Then Mama Rose was brought out, an extremely friendly dog, eagerly wagging her tail. "But not every dog that's wagging its tail is friendly," Wharton said. "If it's a full wag, really side-to-side, it's likely a friendly sign. But if the tail is upright and kind of stiff, the dog is on alert."
Batts asked what would be a good way of dealing with an aggressive dog without using force. Wharton suggested putting up some sort of physical barrier between the officer and the dog if possible, such as picking up a trash-can lid and slowly approaching the animal. Batts liked that idea, and also plans to request "catch poles," to restrain a dog at arm's length.
"I'm a dog lover myself," he said. "I grew up with dogs around. And I've also been in situations as a police officer where I've been chased onto the hoods of cars by dogs. So it's important to learn these signals, and know better what to do without hurting the animal if at all possible."