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Opinion: Should police have sent in the dog?

This is an editorial piece. An editorial, like a news article, is based on fact but also shares opinions. The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and are not associated with our newsroom. 

Why didn’t they send in the police dog?

That was my first thought after watching the body cam video of a Salt Lake Police officer getting shot.

The footage came from a terrible situation in early February: crowded apartment, gunfight, bullets firing in every direction. Officers having to peek through a small window, looking for the suspect who had just shot an officer in the leg.

Why didn’t they send in the dog?

I realized I’ve never given much thought to when you use a police dog.

My knowledge of police dogs is fairly basic. I know what most people know. I know that they have the best nickname in the history of nicknames– “hair missile”. Also acceptable is the term “fur rocket”.

I first heard the description, “hair missile”, on my favorite TV show, “Seal Team”

Police dogs are fast, ferocious, and tenacious—when needed.

My sister watched 20 years of the show “Cops” eagerly anticipating any episode that featured the “hair missile.”

So again, an officer is shot, it’s an extremely dangerous and volatile situation. Why didn’t they send in the dog?

Let’s rewind a little bit.

In early February, officers responded to a distress call in an apartment building in downtown Salt Lake.

Police say that an officer spotted a man and woman through a ground-level window; they kicked out a window and ordered the male suspect to drop the gun he was holding.

This is where I will pick up the story. It’s where the released body camera begins.

What Happened?

There are two videos:

One from the officer that was shot in the leg and another from the K9 unit.

Officers are crowded around a small window. The suspect fires at the officers and hits one in the leg.

Officers drag the hit officer out of the way.

At that moment the officer was hit, the K9 unit arrives on scene and runs to the open window.

Another officer, gun drawn, is crouched at the window. The police dog is ready to go, pulling powerfully against his handler.

It appears that the dog lunges at the officer holding his gun and crouched at the window. The handler pulls the dog back a split second before the officer fires several shots into the apartment.

 

Still, the K9 is not released but retreats with his handler. As the dog retreats, it appears to nip at an officer that is approaching with his gun drawn.

 

When do police send in the dog?

“They are very well trained but they don’t necessarily differentiate– when they are in that excited state they may latch onto one of us,” said Detective Greg Wilking of the Salt Lake Police Department.

That is a nice way of saying, if a police dog sees an arm holding a gun, that arm might get bitten.

“What you want to do is, you want to think of those K9s as officers. We would never release a K9 into a situation where there is an armed subject,” said Wilking“In a situation where you are sending a K9 in on an armed subject, that has the potential to go bad for that K9.” 

“They are not there to take the bullet for an officer, they are there to make situations less dangerous for officers,” stated Wilking“We want to preserve life and sometimes the K9s are a good way of preserving life.”

 When would the right time be to send in the dog?

“The K9’s have a very specific application,” stated Wilking. “If somebody is fleeing and trying to get away and they are not actively shooting, but we don’t know that they have a weapon, that may be a case for deployment.” 

 In this instance, the suspect was shot in the exchange, survived, and taken into custody. During the investigation, a woman was found dead inside the apt.

The suspect is charged with aggravated murder, attempted aggravated murder, aggravated kidnapping and aggravated assault.