A bill that would increase penalties for killing a police dog is one step closer to becoming Utah law.

SB57 would increase the penalty for the intentional killing of a canine officer from a third-degree felony to a second-degree felony. If the law passes, someone convicted of the crime could face a penalty of up to 15 years in prison — instead of a maximum zero-to-five year term currently in place.

Sen. Jani Iwamoto, D-Holladay, said Wednesday in a House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice committee hearing that several police dogs have died in recent years — sometimes to save human officers.

Utah County Sheriff’s deputy Mike Graf brought his retired police dog, Tess, to Wednesday’s hearing. He worked with the dog while employed in Washington County, but Tess was retired after she was shot during a 2017 arrest in St. George.

The bullet, Graf said, is still lodged in Tess’ neck. She isn’t the same dog that she once was, he said, which led to her retirement.

“These dogs are a part of us,” he told legislators. “They live with us. They eat with us. They vacation with us. I did spend more time with my partner, Tess, than I did my own wife.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Deputy Mike Graf of the Utah County Sheriffs office gets close to his police dog, Tess, who was retired from duty last November after being shot in the face during a police call. Sen. Jani Iwamoto, D-Holladay, is sponsoring SB 57 which could bring stiffer penalties for killing a police dog.

Unified police Lt. Chad Reyes told lawmakers Wednesday that had it not been for his dog, Dingo — who was shot and killed in 2017 during an arrest — he would not be here today.

“Dingo saved my life that night,” he said.

The man accused of killing Dingo was charged with a third-degree felony, among other more serious charges. His case is pending.

Another Unified police K9, Aldo, was shot and killed in 2016 while officers served an arrest warrant at a Millcreek area home. Police fatally shot the man they say fired at Aldo.

The bill passed unanimously in Wednesday’s committee hearing, and will now go to the full House for consideration.

When the bill was considered by state senators last week, some lawmakers expressed concern that changing the penalties improperly puts the lives of police dogs above those of some humans. (Negligent homicide, homicide by assault or automobile homicide carry lesser penalties.)

House members did not express those same concerns Wednesday, but Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, said he struggles with the bill. He said the people who shot Dingo, Aldo and Tess were “hellbent on killing whatever showed up,” and worried that the bill will not deter crime. Instead, he said, the bill was more about having respect for police dogs.

“To even question a bill like this makes you seem like an insensitive jerk,” he said. “Do we have to vote for this bill? Kinda.”

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Increase the penalty for deliberately killing a police dog to a second-degree felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison. - Read full text

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Filed Law Introduced in Senate Senate Committee Senate passage House Committee House passage Governor's OK


Feb. 13: Lawmakers vote to stiffen penalty for killing police dogs

By Lee Davidson

Killing a police dog could bring stiffer penalties — tougher even than for some criminals who kill humans — under a bill halfway through the Legislature.

The Senate voted 20-6 to pass SB57 and sent it to the House.

Sen. Jani Iwamoto, D-Holladay, said several police dogs were killed in Utah in recent years — sometimes saving fellow human officers. Her bill would increase the intentional killing of a canine officer from a third- to a second-degree felony.

A third-degree felony may bring up to five years in prison, while a second-degree felony may carry a sentence of up to 15 years. The possible fine for a third-degree felony is $5,000, while a second-degree felony may carry a $10,000 fine.

“Valuing our police animals’ lives most certainly is valuing our human lives” because “police animals protect the lives of police officers,” Iwamoto said. “Police animals protect our lives. Police animals de-escalate situations. And police animals avert crimes.”

Scott Sommerdorf | Tribune file photo Sen. Jani Iwamoto, D-Holladay.

But Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, said the bill improperly puts the lives of police dogs above those of some humans.

He said a negligent homicide is only a Class A misdemeanor. It’s a third-degree felony for abuse that causes death, a homicide by assault, or criminal homicide by automobile.

“This bill is saying that death of a police service dog is a higher offense than everything I just mentioned,” he said.

He said it’s not fair to human victims “to say that the dog’s life is worth more than a human’s life. That’s where I just have to draw the line.”

But Senate Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, noted that some second-degree felonies now include theft of items worth more than $5,000, communications fraud for more than that amount and even graffiti causing more than $5,000 in damage.

Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, said police dogs are worth $50,000 — counting the cost of their training — so it’s appropriate to boost the offense of intentionally killing them to a second-degree felony.

Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, argued the bill does not elevate dogs above humans, in part, because intentional murder of a human police officer could bring the death penalty, and killing a police dog would be only a second-degree felony.