Austin police officer's duties change for his own safety after dog killed

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by SHELTON GREEN / KVUE News and photojournalist MICHAEL MOORE

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kvue.com

Posted on April 18, 2012 at 9:30 PM

Updated Thursday, Apr 19 at 9:44 AM

AUSTIN – Austin police have changed the duties of one of its officers for his own safety. They say threats poured in shortly after he shot and killed a pet dog over the weekend. The officer says the dog was threatening him. 

Austin police are also taking another look at the department’s Deadly Force Use policy when it comes to aggressive animals.
 
“Aggression is overused. Dogs are usually, if anything, fearful. Most dogs aren't aggressive.  I mean, they just aren't,” said Troy Pfeifer, owner of Sit Means Sit Dog Training.
 
Pfeifer teaches children, mail carriers and meter readers how to avoid being bitten by dogs.
 
“Most dogs, and this is the huge majority of dogs, if you stop, fold in your body parts and you don't move, most dogs will come bump you, look at you, smell you and walk away,” added Pfeifer.
 
This past weekend Austin police officer Thomas Griffin was responding to a report of a domestic disturbance on East 5th Street. The problem was that the 911 caller gave dispatch the wrong address. When Officer Griffin arrived to what he thought was the scene, he yelled at the first person he saw to put his hands up. That person was Michael Paxton, who was with his blue heeler, Cisco, in their front yard.
 
Officer Griffin says he shot and killed Cisco because the dog was charging at him.
 
Austin police's policy on deadly force against aggressive animals says:  “In circumstances where officers encounter any animal which reasonably appears under the circumstances to pose an imminent threat to the safety of officers or others, officers are authorized to use deadly force to neutralize such a threat.”
 
“There's so much room for interpretation there," said Michael Paxton, Cisco's owner. "Is the dog running at you barking? Is it a dog biting you? Or Is it a dog just barking at you?”
 
“I don't think deadly force was required but it was his quick first response,” says Lauren Hays, a certified animal behaviorist. She has her own ideas about changes she believes APD should consider when reviewing its policy.
 
“I think there could be something in there about it's also possible to use other things to stop that threat short of using a weapon," said Hays. "You might train the officers to think through, 'how fast is this going to happen? How big is this dog? Is this a known dangerous dog already?' Think through a couple of things like that before going straight to the gun."

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