City of Detroit argues police officers have the right to kill unlicensed dogs

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Police killings of dogs are so widespread that there’s a name for it: “puppycide.”


Detroit police made headlines for killing 54 dogs in 2017, a figure that doubled those killed by Chicago police officers in the same year. According to “destruction of animal” reports, one unidentified Detroit police officer killed more than 80 dogs throughout his career. The cost of killing dogs has been high, with the city paying out hundreds of thousands of dollars in related settlements.

Instead of choosing to not use force against dogs, the City is now claiming DPD officers have a right to kill dogs if they are not licensed.


In response to a federal court ruling earlier this month that stated police officers cannot kill unlicensed dogs without consequences, the City filed a petition Monday for a rehearing. They argue the government has a greater claim to ownership of the city’s unlicensed dogs than private citizens.


The original lawsuit was sparked by a January 14, 2016 drug bust at the residence of Nikita Smith. What happened inside Smith’s home is disputed, but it’s clear that police shot and killed her three unregistered dogs, two Pitt Bulls and a Rottweiler, then charged her with possession of marijuana, which was later dropped.


Smith took the City to court for killing her dogs, which she says did not present a threat, and a succession of legal battles ensued. Most recently, The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, just one level beneath the US Supreme Court, ruled that even unlicensed dog owners are protected.

"Just as the police cannot destroy every unlicensed car or gun on the spot, they cannot kill every unlicensed dog on the spot," writes the appeals court.


But a petition filed by Senior Assistant Corporation Counsel for the City's Law Department Sheri Whyte disagrees with that logic. The petition argues that because the dogs were not licensed, which breaks Detroit city code and Michigan law, Smith needs to prove that her “possessory interest” in the dogs was greater than that of the government.


The petition goes on to compare Smith’s unlicensed possession of the dogs to that of “heroin...moonshine whiskey...and sawed-off shotguns.” The City’s petition puts it bluntly: “Under Michigan law, possession of an unlicensed dog is contraband per se...”


If the federal court agrees to rehear the trial, Smith, in somewhat Orwellian fashion, will need to prove they were her dogs, and not the government’s.

Will Feuer is a Metro Times fall editorial intern.

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