Newton Police Chief Jeff Hoebelheinrich said Tuesday he believes his officers have been properly trained to handle calls involving potentially dangerous animal situations and when they should fire their service weapons.
Hoebelheinrich’s comments come a week after Newton Police Department Lt. Bill Henniger was involved in an incident in which he shot a pit bull after responding to a report of a dog running loose June 16. While the incident itself has sparked discussion among members of the community, a lot of discourse has centered on Henniger firing his service weapon twice, and with the second shot being unaccounted for.
“Obviously, they are only supposed to use their service weapon when it’s justified. That means either the protection of the officer, protection of a victim, protection of anybody. And everyone knows that once that bullet goes out, that officer is responsible (for) where it goes,” Hoebelheinrich said.
“So they have to be careful that they know what’s in the background, whose in line of sight … and we are trained on that every year. All the officers have been trained on that … Again, if an officer is in danger, if a citizen is in danger, we are going to use the weapon when it’s justified — and from everything I’ve seen at this point, it was justified.”
When Henniger fired his weapon last week, he was responding to a call about a large dog roaming the 300 block of North Third Avenue East. The caller stated the dog had cornered a man who was pushing a baby in a stroller.
The Walker family, which owned the dog that was shot and later died, and NPD have different versions of what happened in reference to the second shot. The Walkers stated their dog was retreating after Henniger shot it the first time. They say the officer then fired again as the dog was retreating toward their 7-year-old daughter.
Henniger stated, in his incident report, that he fired his first shot in self-defense after he kicked the dog as it was barking and lunging at him. His report says the dog bit him in his right shin, and that’s when he drew his weapon and fired a round into the dog.
“The dog continued at me in the same manner, and I fired a second round, strong hand only, which missed,” Henniger wrote. “The dog began to whimper and walked approximately 15 yards away to the north side of the alley, where it stood and was obviously in pain.”
Hoebelheinrich said an investigation is still ongoing. However, he feels the fact that Henniger was bit and had to go to the emergency room justifies the shooting.
“The dog had attacked the officer several times, and he did all he could with the commands, kicking at the dog … and at some point, the only way of stopping that dog of doing any more harm to him, whether it was the officer or someone else, the dog had to be stopped at that time, because it was what we call ‘vicious,’ absolutely. That’s why he did shoot it,” Hoebelheinrich said.
“Again, there was no damage, no collateral damage with the shots being fired. It didn’t hit anybody. So the officers are cognizant of when they fire their weapons. There are no ‘no shooting zones’ out there. If it’s needed, it’s needed.”
The question has arisen on the department’s current protocols in terms of large animals and whether NPD officers been properly trained to deal with these types of situations.
“Right now, we are not making any changes. We did have department-wide training last fall on how to deal with vicious animals, and we were trained by someone with the animal rescue league statewide,” Hoebelheinrich said. “They came and trained our officers on this type of incident, and we are still going through it to make sure our policies are up-to-date, and that we followed policy.
“But at this moment, there is nothing to indicate that there was a failure in policy, and we’re going to continue talking to every officer and everyone involved. Again, if a policy needs changing, we’ll do it. If it stands good, then we are going to leave our policy as is, and right now, I don’t have anything that says we will be changing it.”
Hoebelheinrich advises citizens to follow the city’s ordinances in regards to pet ownership. A copy can be found at www.newtongov.org/DocumentCenter/Home/View/456.
Hoebelheinrich said these types of incidents with dogs at-large have become a “huge thing” for cities everywhere, including Newton. He said his department has taken a proactive stance on the matter.
“If we’re finding dogs at loose, we are going to file citations for animals running at-large, and if they’re not licensed, we will charge them for not having a license or rabies shots. Like anything else, if you drive a car, you have to have responsibilities. If you have a pet you have to have responsibility and that means keeping them penned up or leashed up,” he said.
Senior staff writer Ty Rushing may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 426, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.