Animal activists, pet owners and people who like to call the cops to complain about their next door neighbor’s noisy mutt can all rest easy today, as it turns out that rumors of the vicious dog unit’s death were greatly exaggerated (to paraphase the highly quotable Mark Twain).
As we reported yesterday, the Police Commission planned to address the state of the Vicious and Dangerous Animal Unit at their weekly meeting on Wednesday night amidst reports that suggested that the services of the animal court would be diminished or eliminated altogether with the forthcoming retirement of Sergeant Bill Herndon, who has been the mainstay of doggie discipline for almost two decades. Other reports named a successor to Herndon, but suggested that his replacement might be only a temporary solution.
“Rumors were flying [and] the community was concerned,” said Sally Stephens, chair of the San Francisco Animal Commission and the San Francisco Dog Owners Group. “I’m happy to say our worries were not realized, and all the things the community wanted to be reserved in the unit will be.”
Rather than getting rid of the vicious dogs unit, the Police Department has redesigned it under the tutelage of Police Chief George Gascon with the ultimate goal to “better share information between agencies and stakeholders and provide greater accountability,” as cited in an information packet distributed at the meeting.
In addition, the retiring Sergeant Herndon will be replaced by Officer Sherry Hicks, a 16-year veteran of the SFPD who is a self-described animal lover with two dogs and a “plethora of kitties” who has worked with animals on a professional level in the past.
“Some have said I’ve gone to the dogs, but I’m proud and very happy and I can’t wait to get going,” Hicks said.
Hicks will replace Herndon as the hearing officer for animal court trials, while Officer John Denny will remain on as the investigative part of the duo. Additionally, Hicks will be in charge of providing all police officers with training regarding the handling and reporting of aggressive dogs.
“We take this as an opportunity to modernize the unit,” said Captain Teresa Barrett of the Park Station. “With every road block a new opportunity comes, and we’re very pleased with the selection of Officer Hicks.”
Captain Barrett went on to explain what some of these changes to the Vicious and Dangerous Dog Unit will entail, citing increased engagement between the dog unit and community advisory boards and the implementation of weekly updates about vicious dogs for district captains and Comp Stat teams as two examples of efforts to restructure canine court for the better.
Animal Care and Control Director Rebecca Katz added that there is a need for the vicious dogs unit in San Francisco now more than ever, speaking implicitly of the recent dog attack in Golden Gate Park as an example of an incident that necessitates the existence of the animal court.
“There’s a lot of concern that people have a place to go and voice their concerns,” Katz said. “With recent events we yet again see there’s a need for a vicious dogs unit for people to go to. We’re all working collaboratively [and] we’re looking forward to addressing the community’s concerns.”
Meanwhile, Police Chief Gascon praised the officers of the canine court for collaborating with local animal activism organizations in taking steps to enhance the unit.
“This is a perfect example of often times taking what appears to be a bad situation and turning it into a good outcome,” Gascon said.
2009 Statistics Regarding Vicious Dogs in San Francisco:
383 Dog Bites
281 Cases Reviewed, 92 of which resulted in Vicious Dog Hearings
Out of the 92 hearings, 27 dogs were deemed vicious and dangerous and 11 of them were either surrendered or euthanized. As of 2009, there were 212 vicious and dangerous dogs in San Francisco.
Source: San Francisco Police Department Vicious and Dangerous Animal Unit