Recently, the Puppycide Database Project has been receiving a growing number of requests to have records either amended or removed from our database. Subsequently, we have provided a short explanation of our policy for such removal in our FAQ.
While the policy is fairly straight-forward, it strikes us as reasonable to explain the policy a bit here in this blog post, in order to help address questions and the thinking behind the new policy.
What data is collected?
The Puppycide Database Project maintains a growing database of incidents of the use of lethal force against animals. The database contains a variety of information depending on what is available for that particular incident, but we aim to collect the date of the incident, the city and state where the incident occurred, the name of the victim, whether any children were present, whether a "beware of dog" sign was present, whether a warrant was issued if the shooting involved police entering private property without permission and the name of the officers involved in the shooting as well as the name of the police departments involved in both the shooting and subsequent investigation.
The information in our database is collected in one of several ways. Records can be prepared by a a PuppycideDB volunteer, they can be added anonymously using our online form or they may be added as part of an automated software process. The vast majority of the records collected are based on news articles, police records and court documents. Some records contain supplementary information based on interviews with the families of victims, witnesses and police.
The Puppycide Database only includes records of events that occurred within the United States. Accordingly, recent European court decisions suggesting a so-called "Right to be Forgotten" do not apply to the records contained in our database and website.
A number of details about individuals, both victim families and police, may be contained in our database.
For victim families, these details may include the following:
- Employment History
- Criminal History
For police, the details differ, and may include the following:
- Employment History
- Criminal History
- Disciplinary History
The Puppycide Database Project does not publish the home address of individuals currently employed as police officers. Furthermore, we do not make a point of collecting information such as address or employment history from victim families. To understand why such information may appear in our database, its important to understand how data is collected.
Each record in the Puppycide Database Project contains a field called Summary. The Summary field includes a description of the use of lethal force incident, the circumstances giving rise to it, as well as details surrounding any subsequent civil or criminal cases as well as disciplinary hearings. Nearly all of the Summary fields are reproduced from news articles or lawsuit complaints - this is how information that we do not make a point to collect becomes included. Many Puppycide incidents have a very limited amount of supporting news & court documentation: when the only available news story contains the victim's address, it may be included in our database.
Types of Removal & Change Requests
There are essentially two different types of requests to remove or edit information from the Puppycide Database Project.
The first such request is a factual request. A factual request is based upon a concern that the database contains information that is factually incorrect or untrue. Not only does the Puppycide Database Project review each and every such request that we receive - but we also greatly appreciate factual errors being made known to us. Upon confirmation of the error, corrections of such information will be issued immediately. Depending upon the circumstances, we will issue a formal retraction of the information including social media posts and a post here on our blog explaining the error and the correction.
Factual requests could include, but are not limited to, typos, misattribution of quotes, incorrect spelling of names or misatrribution of events or actions.
One recent example of such a request is a recent request we received from the Boston Police Department. We had incorrectly attributed Jeffrey Bolger and Thomas Schmidt, a pair of police officers who had slit a dogs throat in the middle of a crowded street, as employed by the Boston Police Department. In reality, the pair were employees of the Baltimore Police Department. The incorrect attribution was placed on our blog and on Twitter, although our database contained the correct info.
An employee of the Boston PD reached out to us on Twitter to point out the error. We corrected the mistake within 15 minutes of receiving the message, not just removing the bad Tweets and updating the blog post, but we issued a separate blog post to describe the issue and our response to it.
The events that the Puppycide Database Project is focused on presenting are nearly always controversial events. As such, there are certain types of events for which some may claim a misattribution has occurred that we will not redact. For example, where conflicting reports exist surrounding the use of police use of force between the victim's family, their lawyers, witnesses and/or the police, it is our policy not to remove one report in favor of the other, but to print and include all such reports.
This policy of inclusive publication serves a number of purposes, the least obvious of which is that our research is just as interested in how the government, press and activists talk and write about the use of lethal force by police as we are in counting every such use of force. Ultimately, the research of the Puppycide Database Project aims to determine how lethal force by police has changed over time and the role that the press and activists have played in those changes (or lack thereof).
Before moving on to the second type of request, we point out a final and important note about factual requests for record removal and edits. Factual requests that have been submitted anonymously will be reviewed. Requestors are welcome to use any method of contact provided on the Puppycide Database Project Contact Page, including our anonymous, secure submission form. The identity of the requestor is not relevant to the request. What is relevant is providing a sound argument or means of confirmation to prove the nature of the request. In cases where an error is not obvious we ask that requestors assist us in completing your request by showing us our mistake to the best of your ability.
The second type of request we receive are what we have begun to refer to as non-factual requests. These requests do not dispute the truth of information included in our database or posted on our web properties, rather, these requests claim that we simply ought not to print the material in dispute.
We do not reject non-factual requests as a matter of course. However, there are additional rules that we place on non-factual requests above and beyond those for factual requests.
Foremost among these rules is that we will immediately reject any non-factual request that has been submitted anonymously. This rule is in place because every non-factual request we have received purport to be authored by a party involved with the events concerned in the record that they hope to have removed from the database. Individuals wishing to pursue such claims must, at a minimum, provide some means of identification and some means that we can reply to your request. Likewise, police departments seeking to have records removed or updated should contact us through an official means of correspondence for the department, such as the department's email account or authorized social media account. Any requests by individuals purporting to be police or victim family members that are received anonymously will be immediately discarded.
It is an unfortunate reality of the internet that not everyone is who they claims to be. The Puppycide Database Project researches events that lead to lawsuits involving hundreds of thousands of dollars, firings and criminal charges for police and victim family members alike. Apart from these consequences, the events themselves can be embarrassing, shameful and painful to remember. Because of this, parties involved in a puppycide and invested in the whole event being forgotten or perhaps remembered in a certain way could find removing our records a step closer to their goal.
There are a variety of circumstances where it is appropriate to redact specific details from a Puppycide Database record. As we mentioned earlier in this article, summary information based on news stories occasionally include the addresses of victim's families. We are happy to redact such information, baring in mind that we are unable to redact the information from the newspapers or other sources where the information was reproduced from.
Police officers or departments who wish to have a record removed from the Puppycide Database Project must contact us via an official departmental email or social media account. Alternatively, individuals who are no longer employed by a police department, but are mentioned in our database in their prior employment as a police officer, must provide us with some means of verifying their identity. As with every media organization, we retain the right to publish all correspondence.
There are very few circumstances in which the Puppycide Database Project would ever voluntarily remove a record from our database entirely based solely on the argument that such information should be kept out of the public eye. Our research seeks to record incidents of lethal force against animals - and one of the most vital parts of our research is to determine which shootings are reasonable and justified and which are not. To this end, we must include shootings that are in fact reasonable and justified. It is to the benefit of police officers and departments that shootings of animals which are legitimate should be included, and publicized.
Our volunteers are much more amenable to requests for police statements, documentation and interviews be included in our research. We gladly include all such information provided or available to us in addition to reports provided by witnesses, victim's family members and the media. Police departments and officers have much to gain by becoming a part of the conversation surrounding concerns of the use of lethal force against animals. The Puppycide Database Project will publish your entire version of events, without employing any dishonest editing practices to mischaracterize interviews. Our Project is a research organization, and as such has no political "agenda": the only principal that brings our volunteers together is an agreement that transparency can play a role in reducing violence.
The Puppycide Database Project is not "anti-cop". We will not abandon our core mission by deleting inconvenient records from our database, but we will print your side of the story.
A Final Note
The detailed summary of the policy that we just discussed can be easily summarized.
Anyone can securely and anonymously submit corrections to our records, editorials and research papers that will be quickly and transparently reviewed.
If you are concerned that our records have publicized too many personal details about you or your police organization, you must contact us and provide us with a means of replying to your request so that we can confirm your identity.
The Puppycide Database Project will never remove an entire record from our database based on the argument that the public should not know about a specific use of lethal force against an animal or human being. A declaration of the legality of the use of force is not an excuse for keeping such events secret. Attempts to force the issue, in court for example, could only serve to more widely publicize the event in question while simultaneously providing The Puppycide Database Project with additional readers, volunteers and public support.
Our database welcomes differing points of view and will publish all "sides" of a given story.