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EPPD decreasing use of lethal force against dogs through K-9 encounters training

Officer Whitener trains other officers on dog behavior and different tactics to utilize to help avoid using lethal force in the K-9 encounters course. 

Police officers encounter dogs on a regular basis but it's not always under the best circumstances. To better handle these instances, the El Paso Police Department has created a training called K-9 encounters.

In the past, dog behavior and assessing these situations were not a big part of their training. Now it is a required course. There are various scenarios in which officers deal with dogs and often times there is no time to call an Animal Control Officer to aid. In some cases, dogs can add to the tension of a call by becoming aggressive or attacking officers, which has led to the use of lethal force.

To help de-escalate those situations and avoid not only being bitten or attacked by a dog but preventing having to shoot one, EPPD has employed this four-hour training that includes a live demo and simulates dog bites or attacks.

The class is taught by Officer Curtis Whitener who has many years of experience not only as an officer but dog trainer. He points out some of the key factors taught in the training so officers can better handle these situations, which include not only being vigilant for animals when responding to calls but understanding how to read dog behavior and what it means in those situations; posturing, stimuli and types of barking.

“We estimate there's about a four to one ratio of people to dogs and we tell officers they're everywhere, they're everywhere. When you check people's alarms they're in the backyard, be aware make sure there's not a dog back there. During traffic stops people have their dogs with them, even if they’re not at a call, we see them lose in areas we are responding, like schools and parks. So the goal of this course is to teach officers dog body language and how to respond appropriately. To do what? To minimize the encounter, to de-escalate and it's worked. The vast majority of dogs we encounter don't want to fight us, they just talk the dog talk. If we assess their behavior, we can communicate back with our body language and if necessary use other options without having to shoot,” said Officer Whitener.

He also said while officers are better trained in this area, aware and vigilant for dogs, pet parents need to be responsible and consider their pets when they call 911 to avoid making the emergency situation worse and help keep everyone safe.

“I believe there are no bad dogs just bad dog owners. If you know the police are coming to your house because your child ran away, secure your dog. If you called 911 for help with an emergency, secure your dog. If there’s a family fight and you’re calling police to help break it up, secure your dog and get them out of that situation too because they’re scared and they can feel the tension in those situations and having a stranger come into their home can put them on alert,” said Whitener.

This training has been required and taught for two years and Whitener said it has helped to reduce the number of incidents in which dogs are shot by police from four to five a year to one every eighteen months.

EPPD has opened up its doors to other agencies to participate in the K-9 encounters training and so far, officers with El Paso School District and Socorro Independent School District have taken the course.

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