New spcaLA Class Trains Police Officers in Animal Behavior in Wake of 2013 Hawthorne Dog Shooting

By Littlejohn, Donna | Daily News (Los Angeles, CA), January 16, 2015 | Go to article overview

New spcaLA Class Trains Police Officers in Animal Behavior in Wake of 2013 Hawthorne Dog Shooting


Littlejohn, Donna, Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)


Lt. Cesar Perea of the SPCLA teaches how to interact with dogs during class at Hawthorne Police Department on Friday, January 15, 2014. (Robert Casillas / Staff Photographer)

When police officers arrive at a crime scene, training tells them project a commanding presence - stand tall, chest forward, yell commands - to establish physical and psychological authority.

It works well with human suspects. But not so well with a pet dog that's in the way.

In the wake of a 2013 police shooting of a Rottweiler named Max in Hawthorne, a new state-certified training class aims to train officers on how to deal with animals. Put together by the spcaLA, the course went live this month as all officers in the Hawthorne Police Department began going through the eight-hour classroom session.

"This curriculum was designed using the latest science" in animal behavior, said Madeline Bernstein, president of spcaLA, at a news conference Friday at the Hawthorne police station.

The nonprofit organization has been developing the curriculum over the past year, she said. Since getting it certified through POST (Police Officer Standards and Training) with the state of California, she said, there have been a "flood" of requests for the training from departments throughout the state.

Titled "Dog Behavior for Law Enforcement," the class is designed to reduce the number of deadly force incidents while teaching officers how to recognize animal behavior and body language that can be threatening.

State certification provides continuing education credit for police officers who take the class, which Bernstein said is currently the only course of its kind certified by the state.

For police officers, some of the techniques taught in the course run counter to their training for how to deal with human suspects.

"Officers are taught to be assertive and dominant when approaching a suspect," said Bernstein, a former prosecutor. "However, the opposite of that 'alpha' approach is usually what is needed when dealing with a family pet."

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About a dozen officers were sitting in a classroom in Hawthorne on Friday as their instructor, Lt. Cesar Perea of spcaLA, explained how to modify behavior and appearance when encountering a dog.

A stuffed dog is used for classroom purposes initially, but Bernstein said eventually real dogs might be employed in the classroom setting, provided liability issues can be cleared. …

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