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LA Animal Services GM Wants LAPD to Pay Vet Bills for Dogs Shot In the Line of Duty

ANIMAL WATCH--Los Angeles Animal Services General Manager Brenda Barnette told the Board of Animal Services Commission this week that she wants the Los Angeles Police Department to pay any veterinarian bills accrued due to shooting a dog in the line of duty--a charge she understands is currently paid by L.A. Animal  Services. 

After ten years on the job, Barnette still does not want to accept that L.A.  Animal Services--not LAPD--is responsible for enforcing animal laws and is responsible for the impoundment and care--whether it involves cruelty and neglect of an animal or attacks on or by an animal.  When she was confirmed by Council in 2010, she stated she would rely on the police department to enforce laws and was quickly reminded by a Councilmember that this is one of the duties of her job.

When  LAPD officers respond to a call regarding a dog that is creating a danger to humans or other animals, it is not their intent to "shoot the dog" but to assure the safety of the Animal Control Officers also responding, the public or anyone who might be endangered at the scene. 

Los Angeles Animal Services officers do not carry firearms and must rely on LAPD officers in situations where their own or others ' lives are in imminent danger. 

Also, ACO's may request that LAPD  respond because of concern that they will be entering a location where there are illegal activities and the owner of the dog(s) may be as dangerous as the animals. This is never done frivolously and it is a collaboration that has been traditionally  supported and respected by both agencies. 

LA ACO FLORENCE CROMWELL ATTACKED WHILE TV CAMERAS ROLLED

One of the most tragic attacks that heightened awareness of the need for backup for Animal Control Officers was the savage attack on Black female ACO Florence Cromwell, 33, who had gone to location where the owner warned that the Pit Bull, named Benjamin, would attack as she opened the door and released him into the yard.  The dog instanlly clamped down on Officer Cromwell's hand and then lunged upward and tore at the officers upper torso and breast, as she was helpless to stop him. Cromwell went to the location to investigate an earlier attack by this Pit Bull on a father and child.

The reporters present had video cameras rolling and this incident is still on YouTube. 

BARNETTE -- TURNING ON THE DEPARTMENT THAT PROTECTS ACO's?

Barnette's comment was made during a brief discussion of the City's defunding of LAPD   causing the need for budget reductions.  The ACTF (Animal Cruelty Task Force) created by former-Councilman (now-Congressman Tony Cardenas) was originally intended to also address blood sports--cockfighting and dog fighting--in the city.  Thus, it was established at LAPD headquarters and made up of a team of Animal Control Officers and police detectives to address these and ancillary criminal activities (such as, gambling, drug and gun sales) that are common at animal-fighting events. 

However, the unit reportedly now prosecutes approximately 150 cases per year, in conjunction with the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office, including hoarding, cruelty and neglect. (See: LAAS GM Seeks $60M for Feral Cat/TNR Plan as LAPD Animal Cruelty Program is Cut) 

OFFICERS DO NOT WANT TO SHOOT DOGS

So, rather than fight to save this very important unit, Barnette stated that she would be OK with both departments covering each other when called.  Here's how that would work--if it would--with LAAS' recent decrease in officers, most of whom have transferred to other City departments.

An Animal Control Officers assisting at an LAPD call is usually based on assuring that when there are dogs (or other animals) known or suspected to be on the premises, they do not escape from the location when police officers enter on a call, whether or not the animals are deemed dangerous. Or they may join the LAPD at the location where known-dangerous dogs are present.

When LAPD officers "cover" Animal Control Officers, it is because there is a known or suspected threat of danger from the dog(s) or the owner (who may have a criminal record) or where there is a strong possibility of illegal activity. 

Los Angeles Animal Services officers do not carry firearms and their only defense is a "catch-pole," clipboard, a rope and gloves, any of which might deter a small dog, but not multiple powerful aggressive-breeds--such as Pit Bulls or other large dogs with the intent to kill or do as much damage as possible. Thus, when LAPD  responds with the ACO,  there is always  the possibility of having to use deadly force to protect the officer's life. 

However, as a former CA chief of police with a long, multi-state law-enforcement background told me, "I do not know of one officer in my entire career who ever came to work intending or wanting to shoot a dog that day." 

IS BARNETTE'S CONCERN ABOUT VETERINARY COSTS VALID OR VENGEFUL?

It was easy to check how many line-of-duty LAPD officer-involved shootings are occurring because LAPD provides this information on its website, so let's see if they have recently created an undue financial burden on the L.A. Animal Services; budget. 

POLICE LINE-OF-DUTY OIS SHOOTINGS INVOLVING DOGS (2019 - 2020)

According to LAPD public records, 52 incidents of Officer Involved Shootings (OIS) occurred in 2020, and only two  involved dogs. And, in 2019, 36 incidents of Officer Involved Shootings occurred with none involving a dog. 

On March 8, 2020, around 12:11 p.m., Southeast Area officers responded to a radio call of "Vicious Animals" in the 10000 block of Wilmington Avenue. While at scene, one officer was attacked and bitten by a vicious dog, resulting in an OIS. 

The dog was not struck by gunfire and fled the scene. The  Southeast Area Police Officer was transported to a local hospital, where she received medical treatment and was released.

On August 19, 2020, an OIS involving a dog occurred in North Hollywood on Fardale Ave. (No details were available.) 

This coincides with a verbal report by a long-time L.A. Animal Services Officer who recently retired, but recalled that during the last ten-year period only about ten dogs were shot by LAPD officers and all occurred to protect humans who were threatened or had already been attacked. 

SHOULD VICTIMS BE IGNORED TO AVOID SHOOTING ATTACKING DOGS? 

Cop shoots and kills pit bull during violent mauling as victim was being bitten,  dragged by her neck 

In October 2020, in Enfield, Conn., a police officer responded at 4:30 p.m. to a call where a woman was being violently mauled by a large Pit Bull. The officer found the dog still clamped onto the woman's foot, where she had sustained severe lacerations and tissue damage, according to ABC News

"The dog's owners were able to briefly stop the dog from attacking the woman by pouring hot water on it," the Enfield Police Department said in a media-release statement. "The dog then lunged toward the woman's neck, bit her and began  to pull her back into the front yard of the property from the sidewalk."  Theyshot the Pit Bull to save the woman's life. 

3 Pit Bulls shot by police after attacking man and killing his dog in DTLA 

On May 11, 2017, LAPD officers shot and killed two pit bulls and wounded another after they say the dogs attacked a man in his 50s who was walking his dog in the skid-row area of downtown LA around 8:30 a.m. 

When police arrived, they discovered a man being attacked by multiple dogs, KABC-TV News reported. An eye-witness' video showed the Pit Bulls on top of the man, biting him after they killed his dog. 

Officers tried clubbing the dogs repeatedly in an attempt to save the man before drawing their weapons and firing at the animals, according to the report. 

The victim was transported for treatment. There was no report on his condition. 

Two of the Pit Bulls involved in the attack died, police saidA third was transported for surgery by Los Angeles Animal Services. 

WHY DOES LAAS PAY VET BILLS FOR LINE-OF-DUTY DOG SHOOTINGS?

Just as LAPD provides--without charge--protection for Animal Control Officers to perform their duties, L.A. Animal Services has historically (since animal shelters were built) provided for the care of animals that are abandoned, stray, injured, or involved in criminal cases, including dogs that LAPD officers are forced to shoot for safety of humans and other animals.  

Penal Code § 597.1 - Law section, which may not directly apply to each incident where a police officer needs to discharge a firearm to stop a dog attack or killing, provides many scenarios which state that the impounding department has responsibility for animals seized by a law-enforcement agency for various reasons and also provides a number of ways by which those costs can be recovered from the owner, through dog-licensing revenue, or through adoption of the animal.

Obviously, LAPD does not maintain an animal shelter, thus L.A. Animal Services is the City department which provides care until an animal may be returned to an owner, made available for adoption or a court has made a decision on the release of the animal. 

And not all dogs that have attempted serious attacks on officers or others can be easily rehabilitated or retrained into safe pets or for "rescue," due to genetic aggression. (See: Best Friends Animal Society in Dog Fight over Shock Collars.) 

However,  looking at the recent minimal number of OIS (officer involved shooting) of dogs in L.A., this is an odd time for Barnette to bring up this issue, unless it is merely to attempt to smear the reputation of LAPD by implying it imposes unreasonable expense on L.A. Animal Services by excessive or reckless dog shootings. Obviously, the statistics show that is not true. 

DOG-SHOOTING SHOULD NOT BE A POLITICAL TOOL FOR A CITY OFFICIAL

GM Brenda Barnette's self-righteous and dismissive attitude toward law-enforcement is reminiscent of a May 2019 commentary by John W. Whitehead of The Rutherford Institute, "Don’t Shoot the Dogs: The Growing Epidemic of Cops Shooting Family Dogs," which provides undocumented statistics, apparently to influence attitudes toward police officers.

"In too much of policing today, officer safety has become the highest priority. It trumps the rights and safety of suspects. It trumps the rights and safety of bystanders. It’s so important, in fact, that an officer’s subjective fear of a minor wound from a dog bite is enough to justify using potentially lethal force..."

Obviously, Mr. Whitehead has never been attacked by a Pit Bull or other large dog with the intent to destroy its victim, or he would not characterize the danger to an officer or a bystander as a "minor wound from a dog bite."

LA COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPUTIES PROTECT L.A. ANIMAL CONTROL OFFICER

One of the most memorable and alarming local OIS incidents reported during the past decade was Pit Bull Attacks L.A. Animal Control Officer Mireya Martinez, Sheriff’s Deputy Shoots Dog, which occurred in 2012 in La Mirada. 

The Sheriff’s first received a 911 call, and L.A. County Animal Control Officer Mireya Martinez responded to the same call and was informed that a “fawn-colored” male Pit Bull had killed the Chihuahua, whose dead body was lying in the street . 

" Sheriff’s Deputies stayed at the scene to help Officer Martinez secure the Pit Bull in a fenced area for public safety and waited until the animal appeared to have calmed down. 

However, when the officer attempted to place a rope leash over the dog’s head it suddenly became agitated and jumped toward her face and neck. Officer Martinez raised her arm to protect her throat and the dog’s initial contact was mitigated by her clothing and jacket. 

A female Sheriff’s deputy immediately shot the dog to save the officer’s life. 

Los Angeles County Director of Animal Care and Control Marcia Mayeda stated: 

Attacks against animal control officers are always a traumatic event for the officer and other emergency responders. ACO’s devote themselves to protecting public safety through capturing stray and dangerous animals. Being the victims of such attacks themselves further jeopardizes  community safety.” 

The Department takes these cases very seriously and reminds dog owners to properly contain their dogs. Failure to do so may result in criminal complaints against the owner, and restrictions placed on the dogs involved.”

(Phyllis M. Daugherty is a contributor to CityWatch and a former LA City employee.)

-cw