Law enforcement officials, community leaders, dog handling experts and others from across the country will gather in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 21 to discuss best practices for handling aggressive dogs.
About 60 people are expected to participate, including two from Idaho: Meridian Police Chief Jeff Lavey and Meridian Police Officer David Gomez.
Gomez, 44, who has been with Meridian police for seven years, became an Internet sensation earlier this year after bodycamera video of him handling two aggressive dogs was made public online.
“He did a great job. This is another great example of how these things can go differently,” said conference organizer Laurel Matthews, who works in the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Office at the U.S. Department of Justice.
Police encounter loose dogs and hostile family pets on a daily basis – and most do not end in a fatal shooting. There were about a dozen officer-involved dog shootings in the Treasure Valley from 2009 to early 2014, according to agency data and Statesman archives.
But public outcry over high-profile cases nationwide has led to a push for officer training to help reduce shootings.
The goal of the one-day Law Enforcement and Canine Encounters conference is to standarize effective practices that promote officer and public safety. At its conclusion, the COPS office will publish a white paper and launch a Web site to make the information available to law enforcement agencies nationwide.
Matthews said prevention is one focus, but they’ll also look at “effective communication strategies” after a dog is shot. “How to maintain transparency and keep the trust going after an unfortunate incident,” she said.
Edith Williams, who raises money to help Idaho police departments cover the cost of training officers to handle canine encounters, is pleased that Chief Lavey and Officer Gomez were invited to the national conference.
“I think it really gives recognition to Idaho trying to take a proactive stance on this,” Edith Williams said. “Idaho law enforcement has been working on training individual officers.”
Meridian Police Deputy Chief Tracy Basterrechea credited Lt. Berle Stokes, a former canine handler, with being the department’s leader in advocating for training to deal with volatile situations.
“He’s the one that really pushed this,” Basterrechea said. “He still does a lot of the training, and he oversees the training.”
Basterrechea said the department worked with POST to develop a video training course. Next month, Meridian Police will be hosting a “training the trainer” workshop for 30 officers (some from other departments), led by Jim Osorio from Texas-based Canine Encounters. Williams’ group Idaho for Nonlethal Canine Encounters is working to help the department recoup the cost of the nearly $4,000 training.
So far, they’ve raised about $2,600 through T-shirt sales and a GoFundMe account (Meridian PD Canine Encounters Class), and they’re also expecting to receive a $600 matching donation. Local businesses have contributed a long list of items for a raffle (tickets are $5).