Salt Lake Democratic State Senator Jani Iwamoto wants to make the penalty for killing a police dog more severe. Her Senate Bill 57 would make killing a police service animal a second degree felony, instead of the third degree felony that it is now.
During a meeting of the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee on Monday, supporters of Iwamoto's measure told of the heroics of K-9 cops.
Unified Police Lieutenant Chad Reyes described the bond he had with Dingo, a police dog who was shot and killed as he chased down a wanted fugitive in July last year.
"It is impossible to attempt to explain to you the bond that I shared with Dingo," he said. "If somehow...I could suffer a property crime loss of $5,000 or more over and over and over again to bring back Dingo, I would."
The $5,000 figure referenced by Reyes refers to property crimes that are already second degree felonies. The tens of thousands of dollars of investment that go into a K-9 officer's training and upkeep was just one of the reasons backers of the bill argued for elevating the severity of the crime.
Further dramatic testimony came from Sean Bailey, whose six-year-old son went missing one afternoon in December of 2014. Bailey said that unbeknownst to the various teams of police and volunteers searching for his missing son, the boy had fallen into an open manhole cover near a drainage ditch.
Where helicopters with heat-seeking radar and search teams had failed, a police dog came to the rescue.
"An off-duty police officer heard the radio call," Bailey said. "He immediately deployed himself and his K-9 companion, Copper to come to our house....The K-9 sniffed my son's pillow case and went directly to him. Not within ...less than a minute was able to find my son..."
But for the Committee's Chairman, Republican Sen. Todd Weiler, elevating the level of crime a person is charged with when they kill a police service dog brought up questions of parity in the law.
"Right now a third degree felony would include strangulations and other acts likely to produce death," he said. "Homicide by assault is a third degree felony. On a human....So my issue is to tell the families of victims of those crimes that the life of a dog, even a cherished member of the law enforcement community, is more important than the life of a human being."
That argument was reinforced by Marshall Thompson, director of the Utah Sentencing Commission, the group with charged with advising lawmakers on criminal sentencing policy. Thompson said that elevating the crime wouldn't serve as a deterrent to future would be dog-killers, because the crime was one that frequently occurred in the heat of pursuit.
In the end, those concerns were not enough to sway the majority of the committee members. Sen Iwamoto's measure passed from the committee with a favorable recommendation on a 5-1 vote.
It will next be heard on the House Floor.