“Justice for Kincaid” Sounds Alarm for Pets Killed in Police Encounters

January 9th, 2013

Law enforcement is a dangerous line of work. Police officers are often thrust into violent and life-threatening situations. From a policy standpoint, officers’ rules of engagement must be designed to protect officer safety while also respecting fundamental rights. It’s an extraordinarily delicate balance.

Recently, however, some policy decisions aimed at officer safety have gone too far, as police are now often allowed to shoot and kill family pets if they make virtually any sound or motion towards the officer, no matter how serious a threat the dog poses and with no regard for why the officer is on the dog owner’s property. Family pets frequently die in police encounters of all kinds now, as more and more stories of this type appear in the news each day. Stacy Fields lost her dog Kincaid when a fugitive fled onto her property and hid under her porch. Officers shot Kincaid even as Fields’ stepfather reached to grab his leash. In memory of her lost pup, Stacey Fields launched a Facebook page called “Justice for Kincaid.”

Family Pets Are Perceived Similarly to Human Family Members

For many, losing a pet feels a lot like losing a family member. However, some dogs can pose a serious threat to officer safety. There is a delicate balance. Sometimes, an officer will find him or herself in a fenced yard with a massive, angry dog bounding forth unrestrained. There are some situations where the law enforcer must take action for self defense.

On the other hand, one can find plenty of examples of officers citing the same reasoning after shooting miniature dogs or larger ones that didn’t engage in aggressive behavior. While officers shouldn’t be allowing every random stray dog to bite them while at work, dogs maintained by families typically have all of their shots, and swatting away a toy poodle with a boot would be a more rational response to its approach than opening fire with a pistol.

The Nature of the Call Matters

When a police officer serves a warrant on a resisting, violent criminal and finds a gigantic, unleashed, and charging dog on the property, society tends to accept that the officer might have been put in a position to have to use deadly force. However, public support for an officer-involved shooting of a pet tends to weaken when the property owners are the ones who called the police in the first place. Even worse, sometimes police go onto private property in pursuit of a fleeing third party, thus putting a family dog in an untenable situation due to no fault of its own. That was the scenario that affected Stacy Fields.

Many other pet owners have had their dogs killed before their eyes by law enforcement after calling the police to report a crime. When police kill a victim’s dog while stopping by the house to fill out a police report, the community will find out and stop calling the police when crimes are committed. In this way, aggressive rules of engagement can have broader public policy and safety implications.

Officer safety is important, but human rights and pet safety matter as well. Law enforcement is a service that is paid for by taxpayers, many of whom love their pets like a family member. It’s time for a public debate on rules of engagement for law enforcement when dealing with family pets. Stacy Fields believes that if the officer had waited a few seconds, her stepfather would have had time to grab the leash, and Kincaid would still be bringing joy to the family.

Let’s find a way to protect officer safety while also ensuring the safety of taxpayers’ pets. For raising awareness to this crucial issue, Stacy Fields is our Rebel of the Week.

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About the Author: Barry Donegan

Barry Donegan is a singer for the experimental mathcore band Look What I Did, a writer, a self-described "veteran lifer in the counterculture", a political activist/consultant, and a believer in the non-aggression principle.