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Winder announces new police training aimed at canine interactions

SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder said all officers under his command will be required to undergo new training designed to help them minimize fatal confrontations with dogs.

Winder made the announcement Sunday at a joint press conference with the Utah Humane Society, which called the added layer of schooling a step in the right direction in light of the outcry over the June killing of a family's 110-pound Weimaraner in Salt Lake City.

Stressing that the new training is not an indictment of any officer's actions, Winder nevertheless said "unfortunate" incidents prompted him to act.

"I have been fortunate enough to be a trainer and K9 handler for a large part of my adult life, specifically in my law enforcement career, and what it has taught me is that often times dogs can be misunderstood and misrepresented," he said. "I think this has been evidenced in some unfortunate interactions related to canines and law enforcement in recent past."

Salt Lake police conducting a door to door search for a missing child encountered the Weimaraner, Geist, which was subsequently shot and killed. The shooting raised issues of private property rights — whether the officer was warranted entering the yard absent a search warrant — and called into question the adequacy of training when it comes to police and animal interactions.

In August, a civilian review board found that the officer's use of force was justisfied under the circumstances, but the dog's owner and his supporters questioned the decision and remain critical of the department's actions.

Winder said he hopes the Geist shooting can result in positive developments in that officers receive additional training and learn other options may be available other than deadly force.

"The only policy we have is our use of force policy and the use of firearms," he said. "I think that is a major deficit to suggest that is the only opportunity."

The training, which is to begin in January for all Unified Police Department officers under Winder, will use both video and police dogs and be part of the annual requirement that an officer receive 40 hours of training to maintain professional certification.

Winder said the hope is that the fatal interactions involving dogs and Unified police if not eliminated altogether, are greatly reduced.

He said just as domestic violence is treated differently by law enforcement than it was 15 to 20 years ago, the hope is that additional training will bring a new dimension to officers' interaction with dogs and other family pets.

"In our culture today people view their animals in a different light," he said — as family pets and companions.

But Winder's political contender in the race for Salt Lake County Sheriff — Unified Police Lt. Jake Petersen — said the sheriff is missing the larger picture.

While he acknowledged that the canine interaction training is a good move for the department, Petersen said the step fails to address the larger issue of public mistrust.

"There is a problem of use of force," he said. "What it boils down to is that there is a growing sense of mistrust and fear between the police and the public."

Petersen, who held his own "rebuttal" press conference after the Winder event, said more needs to be done to repair that fragile relationship between police and community.

"The underlying issue that is being ignored by the sheriff is that we need to close the gap of mistrust between the police and the public."

Email: amyjoi@deseretnews.com

Twitter: amyjoi16