Policy Recommendation - 05.27.03

Subject: Assessing and Controlling Potentially Dangerous Canines

Recommendation: The Office of Citizen Complaints recommends that the San Francisco Police Department:

(1) provide written guidelines and enhance training on appropriate animal control techniques, especially for domesticated canines, to ensure that officers are prepared

(a) to assess whether or not a domesticated animal poses a danger to officers, other persons and/or other domesticated animals; and

(b) to handle a threatening domesticated animal correctly,

(2) invite appropriate personnel from the City's Department of Animal Care and Control to participate in training SFPD sworn personnel (new recruits and advanced officers) to assess and handle potentially dangerous canines. Such training should include simulated scenarios with actual dogs at the Animal Care and Control facility.

(3) develop a protocol and written guidelines that enable SFPD to request and coordinate on-scene assistance from Animal Care and Control in appropriate cases.

(4) equip patrol cars with dog leashes,

(5) train supervising sergeants in the use of "come-a-longs" for securing potentially

dangerous canines and equip each station with one "come-a-long."

(6) include potentially dangerous canine scenarios in the firearm simulation training provided by the Police Academy.

Case Background:

The OCC has investigated a number of cases in which SFPD officers were called to scenes in which animals, particularly dogs, were present. For example, in one case, during a well being check on an 11-year-old child at home alone, an officer was bit on the buttocks by the family's sheep dog. The officer's partner shot at the dog; the bullet hit the officer in the leg and then ricocheted, hitting the 11-year-old child in the knee.

In a second case, officers observed a pit bull biting the ankle of a 10-year-old girl. The officers shot the dog while in close proximity to the child and another child bystander. In a third case, officers responded to a complaint of unleashed, charging dogs in a neighborhood. After the owner secured both dogs, one got loose and charged at the officer. The officer fired two rounds toward the dog; the dog was hit by a fragment of a bullet that hit the ground. In a fourth case, responding to a report of an aggressive pitbull running loose in a hotel hallway, an officer entered the hotel with his gun drawn. When the owner was contacted, she secured the dog that turned out to be her service animal.

While Department policy authorizes the use of a firearm to kill a dangerous animal, it does not address alternative (i.e. less than lethal force) responses where an animal is perceived as a threat. SFPD's Vicious and Dangerous Animals Unit and the Department of Animal Care and Control suggest that animal control equipment such as leashes and come-a-longs in addition to hands-on training and coordination between SFPD and Animal Care and Control (when appropriate) will better equip SFPD officers to respond to the variety of canine encounters they are likely to handle.

Investigated by: Jessica Cole, Helen Calderon, Dennis Maxson & Karol Heppe
Prepared by: SAMARA MARION, Senior Attorney
Approved by: DONNA MEDLEY, Acting Director
Date: March 27, 2003