A new bill sponsored by Sen. Jani Iwamoto and Rep. Lowry V. Snow was put into effect this month, increases penalties for individuals who are charged with killing a police dog.
Police dogs have many jobs including detection of drugs or explosives, search and rescue, and apprehension of subjects on the run. Like other officers, their job is dangerous and can often result in death. This year alone, five police dogs have lost their lives – three of those while in the line of duty. In 2017, 24 canine officers were killed with one of those being a beloved member of the Unified Police Department of Greater Salt Lake. Canine police service dog Dingo was killed in July 2017 while trying to apprehend a suspect on the run. The fugitive, 28 year old Torey Massey fired multiple shots at Dingo which later resulted in the death of the police dog. The following month in Washington County, another police dog was shot in the head by a subject attempting to flee police. Unlike K9 officer Dingo, K9 officer Tess miraculously survived.
Killing a police officer
Police dogs face similar dangers that their human partners do while attempting to apprehend dangerous subjects, yet the consequences of taking a police dog’s life have been drastically lenient than those consequences of causing the death of a human police officer. Killing a police officer is considered aggravated murder by Utah law which could land the person responsible in prison for life or even facing the death penalty. Killing a police dog however would result in a third degree felony, the same penalty an individual may face for selling marijuana. A new bill that was recently put into effect in Utah has now increased the penalties for those charged with killing a canine officer.
SB0057 – Causing the death of a canine officer
SB0057 was put into effect Tuesday,
May 8th 2018 and makes drastic changes to Utah Code 76-9-306 regarding injuring or killing a police dog. While previously it was a third degree felony to kill a police dog, that section now states “It is a second degree felony for a person to intentionally or knowingly cause death to a police service canine.” A second degree felony is punishable by up to 15 years in prison, the same penalty for crimes such as robbery and assault with a dangerous weapon.
Human lives vs animal lives
Some residents wonder why causing the death of a canine officer now comes with a stiffer penalty than if someone killed another person by driving while under the influence. There are a few reasons as to why killing a police dog would be punished more severely than drunkenly causing the death of a person.
• One major point is the intent. Section 76-9-306 states the second degree penalty is for those who “intentionally or knowingly” cause the death of a police dog. If a person “cause[s] bodily injury to a police service canine; engages in conduct likely to cause bodily injury or death to a police service canine; or lay[s] out, place[s] or administer[s] any poison, trap, substance, or object which is likely to produce bodily injury or death to a police service canine” then the person responsible would face a third degree felony-the same penalty as automobile homicide.
• Another reason why a police dog’s life may appear to carry more value than a person’s could be due to the K9’s close proximity to a human officer. Police dogs are always accompanied by their handler which means if someone shoots to kill a police dog, they are also putting the human officer at risk of serious injury or death as well. Increasing the penalties for killing a police dog may help keep other officers safe while in the line of duty.
Cooperate and consult an attorney
Running is never a recommended choice is fighting an arrest, as it can result in increased charges or safety concerns for the subject due to use of the unleashed service canine or even deadly force by law enforcement. If police officers attempt to arrest an individual it is best to be cooperative but consult legal representation before answering any questions. For more information on charges resulting from an arrest or an individual’s violent conduct towards officers or police dogs, speak to a qualified attorney immediately.