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A Utah man is wondering why a Salt Lake City police officer shot and killed his dog during a search for a missing boy.
Sean Kendall, 27, was understandably frustrated when he received a call that his dog, a Weinaraner named Geist, was shot in the head by an SLCPD officer. Kendall recorded his first interaction with police, and was informed that his dog was shot because an officer felt "threatened."
Did the SLCPD have legal authority to enter Kendall's property and kill his dog?
SLCPD officers were looking for a missing 3-year-old child on June 18 when an officer entered Kendall's backyard and encountered his dog. Officers may generally not search a person's home without a warrant and probable cause, which is likely why Kendall was asking officers what probable cause there was.
You can see Kendall's video, posted by The Salt Lake Tribune, here:
What Kendall is overlooking is that police are often allowed to search and even seize items on private property if it is part of an officer's community caretaking duty. The law recognizes that in addition to being criminal investigators, police officers also serve as community helpers.
This exception to the warrant requirement is intended to allow officers to assist civilians without worrying about violating their civil rights. According to the Deseret News, officers found the missing child inside his own home about 30 minutes after shooting and killing the dog.
But while the community-caretaking exception may have allowed the SLCPD officer to enter Kendall's property, the dog shooting is another story.
Although we may consider our dogs a part of our families, the law treats the shooting and killing of dogs by police officers very differently than shooting a person. There does not need to be probable cause for an officer to shoot a dog, since dogs do not have any Fourth Amendment protections.
In fact, shooting a dog is in many ways considered seizing the dog owner's property, but officers can likely do so if the animal poses a threat to officer safety. Every police department has its own procedure for investigating incidents in which an officer fires his or her service weapon and a death or injury results.
The officer who shot and killed Geist will likely be investigated to see if proper SLCPD procedure was followed. The Tribune reports that the SLCPD has been tight-lipped except to note that "the dog acted aggressively when the officer entered the backyard."
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