Editorial: Dealing with animals an apparent gap in police training
SLCPD needs animal training.
Published: June 30, 2014 09:35AM
Updated: June 30, 2014 09:35AM
image
Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune Marchers carried a portrait of Geist. Hundreds of supporters of Sean Kendall and his dog, Geist, who was shot and killed in his backyard by a Salt Lake City police officer during a search for a missing child, rally to protest the officer's action, Saturday, June 28, 2014 at the SLC Police headquarters.

American police departments these days are professional, trained, lawyered-up and steeped in protocol and procedure. Among the leaders in that trend has been the Salt Lake City Police Department, justly praised for, among other things, its peaceful handling of such potentially explosive events as the Occupy Salt Lake protest.

Thus it seems more than just sad that a local police officer apparently felt the need to shoot and kill a dog that was doing nothing more offensive than sitting in its own backyard when the officer entered in search of a missing child.

It is the apparent lack of training as to what an officer should do when confronted by a potentially hostile animal that seems out of character for a state-of-the-art police department.

It is also unfortunate that a police chief as tuned in to the human condition as Chris Burbank seems to be is surprised that so many people have reacted so viscerally to the incident, to the point of sending hate-filled and threatening messages to the officer involved. And to another uninvolved officer with a similar name.

Such threats are, as the chief says, inappropriate and unworthy. He is correct to ask for some public patience as the incident is under internal review.

But the owner of the dog is not the only one who is livid and demanding that the officer who killed the dog be fired.

The owner, Sean Kendall, argues that it was unlikely that the missing 3 year old — later found in his own home — could have found his way into a yard with such a high fence. Perhaps. But police know that time is their enemy in any search for a missing child, and are likely to err on the side of overreach in such matters.

But Kendall is on firmer ground in insisting that there must have been a way for the officer to subdue — or retreat from — the beloved pet rather than instantly reach for the most lethal option available. He further takes issue with any suggestion that his dog, Geist, was of no more value than a gate or piece of furniture that the police could pay to replace.

Animal experts, such as those from the Humane Society of Utah, agree that there is generally a non-violent way for officers, and anyone else who finds himself face-to-face with a dog instinctively defending its territory, to resolve the situation.

There’s really not much more the police can do for Kendall and his canine friend. But they can get serious about some across-the-board training that might ensure that the sad outcome is not repeated.