The uproar over the July 6 fatal shooting of a runaway dog by Lebanon police officers appears to have prompted the city to seek a review of its policies related to canine calls, as well as professional dog handling training for its officers.

Gunner, a 15-month-old, 50-pound dog, had escaped from his owners’ property to a neighbor’s yard. Three police officers responded and, after unsuccessfully trying to restrain the dog with a catch pole and taser, one officer fatally shot him.

The shooting and events leading up to it were caught on video from a neighboring property. That video was widely shared on social media, and does not show obvious signs of aggression by the dog.

Gunner’s fatal shooting caused a public outcry, including protests in front of city hall, complaints at public meetings of Lebanon City Council, and calls for the officers’ discipline or firing.

The city has acknowledged that at least one of the officers was wearing a body-worn camera that recorded audio and video of Gunner’s death, but has refused all requests to make the police recordings public. Those requests include LebTown’s request under Act 22 of 2017, a state law governing the public release of police audio and video recordings.

LebTown plans to appeal the city’s refusal to publicly release the police recordings.

After hearing critical comments about Gunner’s killing from city resident Jackie Keeney and Palmyra resident Denise Derr, both of whom urged the city to have officers undergo proper training in handling dogs, Lebanon mayor Sherry Capello addressed council and those in attendance.

“As a part of our continuing and ongoing efforts to improve the provision of police services, and prior to [receiving a letter threatening a lawsuit from a lawyer representing Gunner’s owners] the city began the process of working with a law enforcement-specific canine consultant to provide additional training, possible policy changes, and possible equipment to be used in addressing canine calls,” Capello said.

The announcement was met with a loud “thank you!” from an audience member.

The organization chosen by the city is the Pennsylvania Academy for Animal Care and Control, founded by retired Pennsylvania State Trooper Colleen Shelly.

“The difficult part of it,” Capello added, “is getting all the officers trained within a certain period of time and coordinating all of that. But we have potential dates and we are just working through their schedules.”

Other business before City Council

  • As of July 31, with the city’s fiscal year 58% complete, Capello said the city’s revenue and expenditures were at 72% and 43%, respectively, of budget projections.
  • Capello informed council that she has reappointed James Faren to the city’s Planning Commission for another four-year term, effective July 26. Faren has served on the Planning Commission since January 2004.
  • Council unanimously gave final approval to an ordinance allowing the public auction of a city-owned building at 164 N. Ninth St. PennDOT required the city to buy the property over 10 years ago to house a family displaced by the construction of the 9th Street bridge over the Norfolk Southern railroad tracks.
  • Council unanimously gave final approval to an ordinance amendment that will change Fire Commissioner Duane Trautman’s official title to “fire chief.” Capello said the new title is much more common throughout the county and the state, and “commissioner” can lead to confusion.
  • Council approved, on first reading, a minor amendment to the city ordinance governing public participation at council meetings. Speakers will now have to sign a sign-in sheet before addressing council. Otherwise, the ordinance will remain the same.
  • The mayor gave an update on the replacement of the city’s streetlights. Older mercury vapor lights must be replaced with sodium vapor or, ideally, LEDs. The city has already installed LEDs in 239 of its 1,917 streetlights. Some residents had expressed concern about glare and excessive brightness of LED streetlights.

Next City Council Meetings

City Council’s next pre-council planning meeting will be on Thursday, Sept. 22, at 4:45 p.m. The next regular monthly council meeting will be on Monday, Sept. 26, at 6:30 p.m.

Both meetings are open to the public and will be held in the City Hall multi-purpose room, 735 Cumberland St., first floor, Lebanon.

Meetings are also streamed live on YouTube here.

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Chris Coyle writes primarily on government, the courts, and business. He retired as an attorney at the end of 2018, after concentrating for nearly four decades on civil and criminal litigation and trials. A career highlight was successfully defending a retired Pennsylvania state trooper who was accused,...