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New Training Simulators Could Reduce the Number of Dogs Shot by Cops

Consider this alarming statistic: In the United States, a dog is shot by a police officer every 98 minutes. For most police departments across the country, nearly half of all intentional firearm discharges involve incidents with dogs, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). The ASPCA says that while some of these incidents may be justified, many involve police killing family pets on the pet owners’ property. To prevent these shootings, Colorado and Texas have enacted laws requiring all law enforcement officers to receive training in how to humanely handle encounters with dogs. After a horrifying video went viral in 2013 of a Hawthorne, Calif. police officer shooting a handcuffed man’s rottweiler as the man begged him not to kill his pet, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Los Angeles (spcaLA) began offering training in dog behavior to Hawthorne and other police departments in California. A problem with these types of courses is that they try to train law enforcement officers to become experts in dog behavior. They also use trained police dogs in exercises instead of pet dogs. The K9s don’t usually behave in the same way an untrained “civilian” dog would. To resolve these issues, spcaLA has announced what it calls a breakthrough in this training. It is introducing a new, interactive simulator with scenarios that use real-life dog behavior and vocalizations to teach cops how to avoid unsafe encounters and de-escalate situations with pets.

The simulator “will transform the way that law enforcement interacts with dogs — tremendously enhancing safety for the officers, the animals and the public,” spcaLA said in a press release.

It was developed by spcaLA in conjunction with National Canine Research Council (NCRC), a nonprofit that advocates for innovative and practical canine policy, and MILO Range, which makes interactive simulation training products for law enforcement, military and other agencies.

“When an officer is in a high-stress situation with a human and is surprised by the presence of a dog, it seems unrealistic to expect the officer to forego his or her own safety to save a threatening dog,” said Stacy Coleman, executive director of NCRC. “We are teaching avoidance or de-escalation whenever possible.”

The introduction of this simulator coincides with the first-ever Law Enforcement Dog Encounters Training (LEDET) program announced earlier this month by the National Law Enforcement Center on Animal Abuse (NLECAA), its parent organization, the National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA), and VirTra, Inc., a manufacturer of training simulators.

Along with the usual coursework, LEDET will include state-of-the-art simulation training that helps officers experience situations and make choices in real-time.

“Law enforcement officers want to handle their calls safely and go home at the end of their shift, while not causing any needless harm,” said John Thompson, deputy executive director of the NSA, in a press release. "This course will give them much needed tools to recognize and address possible conflict with dogs instead of simply shooting an animal.”

A LEDET pilot program has begun in Harford County and will be coming soon to Orange County, Florida and Oakland County, Michigan. Hopefully, every police officer across the country will eventually be trained using one of these high-tech simulators.

As Coleman pointed out, “Encounters that endanger both law enforcement officers and canines are a serious and prevalent problem. The best solution to protect officers, dogs and the public is training and prevention.”

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