Local group suggests humane animal treatment training for police

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Local animal care advocates have criticized police for not being able to humanely remove or subdue animals after a report released last Wednesday revealed that more than 19 deer, three opossums and two raccoons were shot and killed by Berkeley police officers over the past five years.

At their April 20 meeting, the Berkeley Animal Care Commission suggested that Berkeley police receive training from the East Bay SPCA after a total of 27 animals were shot and killed from September 2006 to April 2011. The Berkeley Police Department report, requested by the Animal Care Commission, comes after an officer shot and killed a pit bull earlier this month on a house call and a separate incident last September in which a mountain lion was shot and killed on Shattuck Avenue due to what police said was a threat to public safety.

An officer is only allowed to use a firearm against an animal if there is a threat to public safety or as a humanitarian measure when an animal such as a deer is hit by a car and seriously injured, according to Berkeley Police procedures.

"In the case of the deer, it's a fairly justifiable situation," said former Animal Care commissioner Jill Posener. "Police officers don't carry equipment or towels, so it's unfortunate but necessary since you can't bring a vet out to the deer."

The Berkeley Police Department has already reached out to the SPCA and the California Fish and Game Commission to find the best type of training for officers.

"We have hundreds of encounters with all sorts of animals all year," said Berkeley police Sgt. Mary Kusmiss. "Whenever we have an emotionally charged issue like this, we want to look at ourselves and serve the community involved."

The report has prompted the Animal Care Commission and the Berkeley Organization for Animal Advocacy - a UC Berkeley student organization committed to raising awareness about animal rights issues - to speak out regarding possible alternatives to harmful police responses involving animals.

"One solution would be having animal control as first responders with police when they know that an animal is involved," said Anne Martin, a member of the Berkeley Organization for Animal Advocacy. "I know it takes resources and time, but the data warrants that kind of commitment from the city at this time."

According to Kusmiss, the Berkeley Police Department will review the SPCA's animal training videos and materials and determine if they should be used for further training. The SPCA materials were developed after similar animal shootings involving the Oakland Police Department occurred, such as when a deer was shot after being found in a backyard in East Oakland last October. Oakland police officers are now trained to recognize animal behaviors through in-class video and live training at the SPCA.

"We are fortunate that our police department does not run our animal shelter," said Posener. "I have a lot of respect for the police, but I want a police department that is transparent."


Contact Anjuli Sastry at [email protected]

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