When Are Police Allowed to Shoot, Kill Dogs?

By Brett Snider, Esq. on July 02, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Sometimes the victims of lethal force by the police are not men, but man's best friend.

In an undated video uploaded to YouTube, Leon Rosby is shown being arrested by officers in Hawthorne, California, only to have his pet Rottweiler shot by police when it appears to come to its owner's rescue, reports The Huffington Post.

Officers can use lethal force on humans when they fear for their safety or the safety of others, but what about dogs and other pets?

Officer Safety

In a statement released by Hawthorne police, the officer's choice to shoot and kill Rosby's dog, Max, was justified by the fear that the 2-year-old Rottweiler would "imminently bite the officer(s)," reports Los Angeles' KCAL-TV.

Although killing a dog isn't the same matter as shooting and killing a human, officers are generally justified in using deadly force to subdue human suspects when they are:

  • Suspected of a severe crime,
  • Posing an immediate threat to officer, and
  • Actively resisting arrest.

There is likely a lower standard for dogs, since only humans have Fourth Amendment protections.

Seizure of 'Property'?

While having a pet killed right in front of you is traumatic (remember Old Yeller?), police may actually be illegally seizing property if they shoot and kill your beloved pet.

Some federal courts have ruled that dogs are indeed property under the Fourth Amendment. But if officers acted reasonably in shooting them, there is no option to recover damages.

It is unclear how future courts would rule if Rosby files a lawsuit against the Hawthorne Police Department. But courts would likely focus on whether officers were justified in shooting Max four times for making "aggressive movements," as police are claiming.

Police Animal Procedure

According to a 2010 Los Angeles Police Department report, there were 15 dogs shot by LAPD officers over the course of a year. Breeds often seen as dangerous, like pit bulls and Rottweilers, made up more than 80% of the dogs shot by officers.

Additionally, many police manuals authorize an officer to shoot and kill "potentially dangerous" animals when they pose a risk to safety. Still, an officer may have to undergo an internal investigation, like those performed by LAPD's Force Investigation Division, for pulling the trigger on an animal.

Internal investigations won't bring back a beloved pet, but the investigators' findings may be the perfect basis for a lawsuit for emotional distress.

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