A 17-member task force has begun shaping a new training program to teach Colorado law enforcement officers non-lethal means of dealing with dogs believed to be threats.
The task force resulted from passage of the Dog Protection Act by the state Legislature earlier this year. When Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the legislation May 13, it became the first such law in the country.
The impetus of the law was a series of fatal shootings of dogs by law enforcement officers. Some incidents were highly publicized and touched off community outrage and protests. One officer faced criminal charges.
Sen. David Balmer (R-Centennial), one of the bill's Senate sponsors, said today it resulted from almost a year of work bringing together disparate groups.
"When I started, I only knew about a handful of dog shooting cases," Balmer said. "As I dug into the subject, I discovered over 40 cases where Colorado police officers shot non-threatening dogs.
"I worked hard to bring the Colorado law enforcement community to the table to work with us. I met with sheriff's offices and municipal police departments from across Colorado, incorporating their suggestions into early drafts of our bill. At the beginning, law enforcement was opposed to my bill, but I kept meeting with them and meeting with them.
"Law enforcement dropped their opposition and began helping improve the bill. Our bill passed the Senate 35-0 and the House 65-0."
Co-sponsors were Sen. Lucia Guzman (D-Denver), Rep. Lois Court (D-Denver) and Rep. Don Coram (R-Montrose),
Balmer said the crux of the task force's work will be to train officers from sheriff's departments and municipal police departments to use non-lethal means of controlling dogs. Animal control officers are not covered because they are not armed and already are trained in non-lethal tactics.
"I recognize the challenges of rolling out this new training while maintaining force protection for law enforcement," he said. "Law enforcement departments and animal welfare agencies across the nation will be following our progress. Legislators from other states already are contacting me asking for advice with the hope of passing similar laws in their states."
The task force is comprised of six law enforcement officers, four veterinarians, three shelter officials, two lawyers, a canine psychologist and a victim of a dog shooting in Erie.
Names were suggested by groups from law enforcement, veterinary groups and shelter organizations, among others.
The task force has three primary goals:
* It will develop the training curricula for dog encounters and canine behavior that will be used in a three-hour webinar for law enforcement.
* It will establish the education and other qualifications required to be an instructor of this training.
* It will develop a plan for filming, producing and distributing the three-hour webinar.
The panel will have until July 1 to come up with the webinar, Balmer said. Then law enforcement will have until the end of the year to have all officers be trained.
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