Police officers go through a lot of training to make sure they are able to stop a threat with a use of force that matches each situation.
But stopping a threat doesn’t always mean stopping a human. Sometimes it means stopping an animal. If you’re a police officer in Hawaii, you can do whatever it takes, including shooting or using electronic stun guns.
“We get complaints all the time and there’s video all over the Internet of police officers who are just afraid of a dog, whether or not the dog’s acting aggressive,” said Teresa Chagrin, an animal care and control specialist with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). “They have shot dogs with either Tasers or guns. Both will kill an animal when it’s really, really uncalled for.”
Groups like PETA, the National Animal Control Association and the American Veterinary Medical Association all warn against Taser use.
“The electricity coming from a Taser causes intense muscle contractions and overwhelming pain,” Chagrin said. “It’s a case of cruelty to animals, and being mean and hurting them is not going to help anyone.”
KHON2 uncovered the first Hawaii video of Taser misuse on humans — cases where police got in trouble for their conduct — but on animals, there are no rules.
Honolulu police has recorded two incidents in the past few years, among hundreds of Taser uses on humans. Hawaii county officers used Tasers three times on aggressive canines, more than 80 on humans. Maui and Kauai counties don’t distinguish between animal or person in their data files.
Police policy already doesn’t allow use of Tasers on fleeing or handcuffed people, the physically disabled or elderly. Some wonder, why aren’t animals on that list?
“I definitely don’t (think police should be able to use Tasers on animals), not against dogs,” said Mark, a pitbull owner. “Humans, yes, because they have a choice to comply, because they can understand the cop’s commands.”
“Isn’t that why we have animal control?” said Cici Caban, who owns two dogs. “They have all the tools to catch the dog and bring them to a place that’s safe and get in touch with their owners.”
Where a human may back down at the mere threat of getting shocked, animal behavior specialists say stun guns can have the opposite effect.
“They can threaten the person. They can see it. They can say ‘Stop or I’m going to Taser you,’ whereas dogs have no idea what a Taser is,” Chagrin said. “They don’t know what people are saying to them and it’s just another way for fearful dogs to become more fearful and resort to aggression.”
Others say officers should be able to do whatever they need to if threatened.
“You wouldn’t take the Taser out unless you were really worried that you were getting attacked,” said dog owner Dennis Watanuki. “It’s like shooting people. You’re not going to shoot somebody unless you know you’re in imminent danger.”
“(Owners) always have to have control over their dog,” Mark said. “A good owner will. There are no bad dog, there are only bad owners.”
So we asked, what exactly is police policy and training on the topic? Turns out, there is no animal-specific Taser policy. In Honolulu, “officers do not receive specific training for dangerous animals,” HPD said in a statement, though they are trained to stop any threat with whatever level of force is necessary so response would depend on an animal’s behavior.
“Without police training and knowing what is going on, what is this animal doing, what are the risks?” Chagrin said. “We have a lot of these cases of police over-reacting in situations and it ends in tragedy for the animals, for guardians of the animals, and I’m sure police officers don’t feel good about it in the end.”
So what would work better? One animal-control jurisdiction on the mainland found even the most dangerous dogs turned playful just watching the red laser light on a Taser without it being deployed, or “the use of air horns just right in the face of an attacking animal can stop them dead in their tracks and even turn them away,” Chagrin said.
Meanwhile, dog owners are calling for immediate change in Hawaii authorities’ procedures and training.
“There should be somebody that’s trained to deal with that,” said dog owner Bret Fisher. “If the cops aren’t trained to deal with that and they have the Tasers and it’s allowed, that could definitely hurt her.”