Lawmakers consider bill to increase penalty for killing police service animals

SALT LAKE CITY —Utah’s law could be changing to stiffen the punishment for killing a law enforcement K-9 officer.  Currently, it is a third degree felony.

Under Utah law,  a police service animal is defined as any dog or horse used by a law enforcement agency, "or any animal contracted to assist a law enforcement agency in the performance of law enforcement duties."

The bill is sponsored by Sen. Jani Iwamoto (D-Highland).

“I was only a few feet behind and I heard the gunshots,” said Lt. Chad Reyes, recounting the moment last summer when his K-9 partner Dingo was shot and killed.

“He certainly was a part of the family. He was a police dog by day and a lap dog by night,” said Reyes.

Reyes was one of several speakers to testify on Utah’s Capitol Hill in support of a legislation to change the law and make killing a K-9 officer a second degree felony.

No one on the committee disputes the value of K-9 officers or their importance to public safety. However, concern was expressed over changing the law unnecessarily.

“Currently we see no evidence…that the current sentencing scheme is failing,” said Marshall Thompson, Director of the Utah Sentencing Commission.

Others on the committee expressed concern about the feelings of family members of certain kinds of crimes.

“My issue is to tell the victims, the families of victims of those crimes that the life a dog, even a cherished member of the law enforcement community, is more important than a human being,” said state Senator Todd Weiler.

The committee voted five to one, Weiler being the one no vote, to move the bill forward to the full senate for consideration.