On June 3, 2013, an unfortunate but familiar sequence of events unfolded.
The Buffalo Police Department executed a search warrant at an apartment on Breckenridge Street on the city’s West Side, looking for drugs. Upon entry, officers encountered a dog, described in this particular incident report as “an aggressive pit bull type.” One officer fired his shotgun three times. The dog died.
Cindy was two years old, not even fifty pounds heavy. Adam Arroyo, an Iraq War veteran, adopted her when she was only six months old.
“These animals,” Arroyo said, “they become like part of your family.”
That week, Buffalo Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda launched an internal investigation into Cindy’s death, following accusations that his officers had accidentally raided the wrong apartment and should never have confronted Cindy in the first place. The case received major local media attention— one of the few dog-shooting cases to make headlines in Western New York.
“The numbers are what the numbers are- Buffalo Police Chief of Detectives Dennis Richards said”
But these are not uncommon scenarios. According to use of force reports requested by WGRZ-TV under the Freedom of Information Law, Buffalo Police shot at 92 dogs from Jan. 1, 2011 through Sept. 2014. Seventy-three of those dogs died. Nineteen survived. In comparison, Buffalo’s numbers more than triple the amount of dog shooting incidents involving police in Cincinnati, a municipality of similar size. The New York City Police Department, the nation’s largest force, reported killing half as many dogs as the Buffalo Police Department in its two most recent annual discharge reports.
“The numbers are what the numbers are,” Buffalo Police Chief of Detectives Dennis Richards said. “Certainly, no officer takes any satisfaction in having to dispatch a dog.”
During the time period analyzed by WGRZ-TV, one individual officer shot 26 dogs, killing nearly all of them. In the years 2011 and 2012 alone, this officer killed as many dogs in the line of duty as the entire NYPD.
The Buffalo Police Department does not train specifically for canine encounters, according to Richards, even though dozens of other police departments across the United States have recently implemented new training procedures to deal with dogs. Unlike other departments, officers in Buffalo do not use Tasers, spray or other tools to contain animals in a non-lethal manner.
“It has not come to that point in Buffalo,” Richards said, “that we’ve implemented any of those other techniques.”
Under departmental protocol, Buffalo Police may legally use their firearms “if the officer or another person is in the process of being attacked by an animal and is in imminent danger.” In the case of Cindy, police simply noted in their incident report that the dog was “aggressive,” a word which appears dozens of times in the use of force records.
Many of the 92 shootings in Buffalo occurred during high-intensity raids and search warrant executions, which often involve split-second decisions and fast-paced pursuits of armed and dangerous subjects. In some cases, these criminals train their dogs – usually pit bulls — to protect themselves and threaten law enforcement.
Sometimes, a police officer has no choice but to fire his weapon.
“It’s a small percentage of the number of total search warrants executed or actions taken by police,” Richards said, noting the department responds to about 1,000 calls per day and has already carried out 357 search warrants this year.
Not every call involved a search warrant. According to a November 2011 incident report, Buffalo Police responded with a dog control officer to an intersection on the East Side, where two dogs had apparently killed another dog. When the police arrived, one of those dogs charged an officer, at which point he fired a fatal shot.
“Officer responded to a call… which claimed a man was preparing to shoot a dog in the yard. When the officer arrived… the officer [fired] a round and kill the dog”
In January 2011, two officers opened fire on two large black dogs in the back lot of the police station after they began to “bark and charge.” The officers fired one shot each— both missed. The dogs ran away. And in December 2012, an officer responded to a call at a residence near Delaware Park, which claimed a man was preparing to shoot a dog in the yard. When the officer arrived, the pit bull then “started charging at the officer,” prompting the officer to fire a round and kill the dog.
Buffalo Police have shot an average of 24 dogs per year since 2011, a pace of one dog roughly every two weeks. Due to the lack of a national record-keeping system, however, it’s difficult to compare Buffalo’s numbers to other municipalities.
Cincinnati Police provided WGRZ-TV with a copy of its use of force records, which revealed officers had shot 27 dogs from Jan. 1, 2011 through Sept. 2014.
The New York City Police Department produces an annual discharge report, publishing its most recent version in 2012. According to those reports, the NYPD shot 72 dogs in 2011 and 2012, but fewer than 30 percent of those cases (21) resulted in fatalities. Buffalo Police – which has a fatality rate of 79 percent since 2011 in officer-involved dog shootings – killed twice as many dogs as the NYPD in that two-year span.
Of course, for every Cincinnati and New York City, there are also cities like Milwaukee, where a lawsuit cited by the Associated Press revealed the police department shot nearly 50 dogs per year from 2000 to 2008. In Southwest Florida, the News-Press discovered 111 instances of dog shootings among multiple agencies between 2009 and 2012, representing about 37 per year. According to the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Police shot approximately 90 dogs per year between 2008 and 2013.
Dr. Randall Lockwood, a senior vice president for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, has studied police dog shooting incidents in hundreds of municipalities, dating back more than a decade.
“Your information from Buffalo, unfortunately, isn’t that unusual for some cities, particularly where there hasn’t been training,” Lockwood said.
Although it’s impossible to create an official tally of nationwide dog shootings, it’s apparent through social media that these cases occur quite often. Using Facebook, dog owners can often rally tens of thousands of supporters after police shoot their dogs, which has helped lead to widespread departmental change in some instances. In Colorado, for example, a string of officer-involved dog shootings collected major media attention and, eventually, led to a new state law requiring police officers to undergo canine training. Illinois passed a similar law last year, and legislation has surfaced in several other states addressing dog shootings by law enforcement.