Wednesday, May 28, 2008

1- Letter to Police Chief Cathy Lanier

Here is a recent message sent to Chief Lanier:

Chief Lanier,

As if you needed another message from me with all else you have going on.

Knowing how quickly and positively you and the Police Academy responded to the concern I voiced about the killing of the dog Scooby in December, I was hoping never to have to write to you again about another incident regarding an MPD officer's excessive use of force against an dog, but I was too optimistic. In view of what I just learned today about the shooting of a family dog, Precious, on Friday night, my purpose in writing today is to ask you to consider two additional recommendations beyond the training recommendation to which you so positively responded. I had intended to hold off on these until after the Police Academy's training program was instituted, but I am raising these recommendations now.

I fully appreciate that the facts I learned this morning about Michael Bailey's dog Precious have been reported from his side of the story, but that is all we have to go on and so until we citizens see an independent report, that is all we can rely on. And if the facts as I learned them are true, the situation of police officers shorting dogs is worse than I imagined. A summary of the facts as I received them in an e-mail this morning is shown at the end of this message. Sadly, these facts match another case I had heard about several years ago, which also went unreported, and so I have to believe that these are not isolated incidents.

My first recommendation is that you consider implementing immediately (including with the investigation of the incident of the shooting of Precious) the Department of Justice's (DoJ's) MOU 6/12/01 which says: "In every incident involving a serious use of force, a specialized use of force investigatory team will be notified and will conduct the investigation." I do not read into that clause any exception in the MOU for the shootings of dogs, but I learned after the Scooby incident that indeed all reviews of shootings are done by a specialized FIT, with the exception of the shootings of dogs, in which cases the investigations are done by a lieutenant in the local district. As I read the MOU, the MPD is in violation of that MOU. A "use of force" is a "use of force" by any definition. And an independent investigation is warranted even when a dog is the only victim because it would reveal something that needs to be corrected to avoid similar errors against the public in the future. Moreover, in the case of Scooby, his owner was nearby when the officer shot him, endangering him and anyone else who might have been around, especially since I have learned from one informed DC police official that only about three percent of bullets shot by police officers hit their mark. In the case of Precious, the situation was worse. Not only were there children and elderly people around when multiple bullets were discharged, but the officer shot Precious when she was leased, under control and being held by Mr. Bailey's fiancé, Sloane Lewis. If these facts are true, we all have a serious problem on our hands.

The MOU recognizes that investigations can only be fair and thorough when done by a specialized use of force investigatory team, and the MPD should honor that. It is not the victim or what happened to him or her that is critical in these investigations, but the fact that force was used. The requirement is meant primarily to be prospective. Having a lieutenant in the same district conduct the review serves no useful purpose whatsoever (even though they may be reviewed months later by the review board), and postpones or eliminates the benefits that are supposed to accrue from those reviews, for the officer's sake, and the citizens.

My second recommendation is that you consider assigning someone in the MPD the responsibility for coordinating all matters dealing with animals, and that as a first task, you charge him or her with the responsibility to develop a comprehensive General Order on the Handling of Animals. (I count at least 10 areas that would be covered.) I understand that of the 1200 or so extant General Orders, there may be one dealing with animals, namely, how officers are to deal with people whose dogs are off leash. From a citizen's standpoint, that concerns me, for our and our dogs' safety, and the safety of the officers themselves. Of course, I recognize that you cannot put out a General Order until you back it up with adequate training and equipping of the force, but it least you can recognize that this is a deficiency and task someone with resolving it.

While some might shrug the matter of cops shooting dogs off as a distraction, I know that you do not and I know that many citizens do not. But putting aside the benefit that that might accrue to the city's dogs and their owners, the MPD stands to gain the most, because if there is something seriously wrong in this areas, that tells us that the situation has to be just as deficient in other areas, too. Also, while those of us who are informed know that we are talking about only a handful of untrained --- or even malicious --- officers out of 4000, the public loses confidence in all 4000 because of the actions of a few. It is not the individual officers we see first, it is the uniform. Please do not let the actions of a few tarnish the credibility of the remaining dedicated officers who care about these matters as much as we citizens do. After all, they, too, are citizens.

One final point I wish to offer. The DoJ's MOU also reads that "The [MPD's] Policy also will advise that the use of excessive force will subject officer to discipline and possible criminal prosecution and or civil liability." If what I read about the incident is true, it would be one of the most egregious acts of animal cruelty I have ever heard about in this city. In view of this, and because if I had read what I read about this incident and it involved a private citizen and not a police officer, the first thing that I would do is contact the Washington Humane Society, which shares responsibility under DC laws for investigating cases of animal cruelty, to ask that an investigation be undertaken. Because of the possibility that the facts as I have learned them could be true, by a copy of this message to the Washington Humane Society, I am asking them to undertake such an animal cruelty investigation and that the MPD not interpose any objection to that. While it may go nowhere with the U.S. Attorney's office, that is not the point. If they are not permitted to do that, Precious and Michael Bailey will not be the only victims in this case. Cruelty to animals is a crime no matter who commits it.

I am now concerned that the DoJ's MOU monitoring might have been lifted too prematurely in the District. I know that you are working hard to resolve the issues you inherited, but we citizens do not have the time to wait for you to accomplish it alone, nor do our dogs.

As before, I will offer any help I can to help you resolve these matters. You are heading in the right direction, but Friday's incident shows that there is still a long way to go.

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1 comment:

Blogger said...

bigtony996left the following comment on posting "1- Letter to Police Chief Cathy Lanier":

"Are you aware that chief lanier takes care of sick and disabled dogs in her very little spare time. Plus she plans on expanding to a full rescue shelter after she retires. Do you feel like a [expletive deleted] yet? "

Posted by bigtony996 to Dogs DC at August 14, 2008 8:10 AM

Blogger response to Bigtony996.

Thank you for your comment. Actually, we are quite well aware of that about Chief Lanier, and much more, and commend her for all of that. But, I'm afraid, you commented without reading the posting, even superficially, which, if you are an officer of the law yourself, would concern me that you reacted so quickly. So for your benefit, let me repeat some of those things here. As you can easily see in the posting, we have been highly effusive with our praise for Chief Lanier and her efforts to fill in the gaps she inherited in this area, especially with all else she has on her plate. Her efforts have been nothing short of extraordinary. And her efforts stem not only from her compassion toward animals, but her compassion generally, as well as her high intelligence, keen judgment and demonstrated leadership skills. However, as Chief Lanier has admitted or would admit herself, the MPD cannot act alone and needs to partner with the community to constantly improve matters. And as she has so capably warned herself during her short tenure in office, if we all just sat back and were satisfied with the status quo, things would deteriorate pretty quickly. So, let me suggest that you read matters carefully and then focus, as we do, on improving process and not on criticizing individuals. To that extent that there are errant people in the process, if the process is strong, they will be discovered and given the necessary training, therapy or even discipline to improve the situation for all, the public, their dogs and the numerous brave police officers who serve the public.

If you are an officer of the law yourself, I would urge you to follow Cathy Lanier's leadership and not snipe at those of us who are trying to improve the process, but focus instead on improving the process from within yourself, as so many of Chief Lanier's other officers are doing. Cathy Lanier would not need to look for the public to partner with her if all her officers would work toward the causes they are sworn to protect. Fortunately, from what I can tell, most are.

Again, thank you for your comment.