SANDY — Following several police incidents involving domestic dog shootings, Utah’s police academy has decided to launch a new program to teach cadets how to deal with pet dogs.
Sean Kendall, owner of the Weimaraner named Geist who was shot and killed by a police officer who entered the dog’s backyard last year looking for a missing child, has been urging better police-domestic dog interaction training since the dog’s death.
“This is a great step in the right direction to protect the police officers as well as community members and their family pets,” Kendall said. “I only wish that this could have been before Geist was shot. But we can’t go back in the past. We can only move forward, and hopefully this will prevent another situation."
The Utah Peace Officer Standards and Training Council approved a plan Monday to implement a pilot program immediately for officers-in-training. The program will run through June.
If the council during its June meeting deems the program beneficial, it will be decided whether to implement the curriculum statewide, said Lt. Wade Bruer, who oversees POST’s training program.
“No officer wants to get attacked,” Bruer said. “But if they do get attacked, (the training shows) officers some options. We don’t necessarily have to shoot every single animal that attacks us.”
Geist’s death spurred Kendall to organize the support group Justice for Geist. Community members have rallied behind Kendall to protect family pets and stop police shootings of domestic dogs.
Earlier this month, Ogden police shot a dog after officers said it charged at them while they were conducting a residential disturbance investigation.
Bruer said law enforcement officials often look at national and local trends when evaluating police training programs, and he said POST felt “it would be best served” to add the training.
He said police agencies met with Humane Society of Utah officials for input as they developed the program to teach officers how to interpret dog behavior, what to do when they encounter aggressive dogs, and alternatives to using force or less lethal self-defense responses.
Gene Baierschmidt, executive director of the Humane Society of Utah, said more than 40 percent of Utah households are homes to dogs, and so it’s important that officers are educated on nonlethal ways to handle the nervous or aggressive dogs that they might encounter.
“We think it’s great that (POST) has taken the initiative, and we applaud them for doing this,” Baierschmidt said. “We think this is good news for the community.”
Kendall said he has been “impressed” with POST Director Scott Stephenson, who has been working on the program and even met with Kendall to discuss its curriculum.
However, he said while he’s excited and optimistic about the program, he’s also “skeptical” that it will provide all the instruction officers should receive on the matter because it only consists of a couple of hours of training.
“In my eyes, it’s lacking in a lot of ways, but it’s a start,” Kendall said. “It’s a step in the right direction, and it’s something that hopefully police officers will take very seriously.”
Late last year, Kendall filed a lawsuit against the Salt Lake City Police Department for entering his backyard without permission and killing Geist. Kendall said the case is still pending because “negotiations haven’t been fruitful.” Those involved are “still evaluating the best steps forward,” he said.
“Nobody should have to come home to the situation that I encountered," Kendall said. "And if this pilot program can prevent that from happening, it’s worth it.”