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Bill would make killing a police dog a second-degree felony in Utah

SALT LAKE CITY — Killing a police service dog would become a second-degree felony in Utah under a bill supported by a Senate committee Monday.

Senate Minority Caucus Manager Jani Iwamoto, D-Holladay, introduced SB57 by sharing the stories of Aldo and Dingo, two Unified police dogs killed in the line of duty in 2016 and 2017, respectively.

Iwamoto's bill raises the penalty for killing a police service dog from a third-degree felony to a second-degree felony. It also changes the language in state law from "intentionally" harming or killing an animal to "intentionally and knowingly," in order to assist prosecutors, she said.

The Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee voted 5-1 in favor of advancing the bill to the full House for further debate.

Unified Police Lt. Chad Reyes, Dingo's handler, said police service dogs cost about $9,000 untrained, take between $30,000 and $50,000 to fully train, and can sell fully trained for about $33,000.

Reyes contrasted property crimes involving more than $5,000, which are second-degree felonies, with the crime of killing a police dog, which currently is a third-degree felony. The penalty, he said, is not "commensurate" with the crime.

"It is impossible to attempt to explain to you the bond that I shared with Dingo," Reyes said. "If somehow I could suffer … a property crime of $5,000 over and over and over again to bring back Dingo, I would.”

Unified police officer Luis Lovato, Aldo's handler, explained to state lawmakers the dual purpose of the training of the dogs — finding people and locating narcotics.

"The value of these dogs and the things they can do is just really incredible," Lovato said.

“The only thing that hasn’t changed in 150 years is the police dog,” he said, adding that the animals' sense of smell and hearing is irreplaceable in police work.

Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, pushed back against the bill, warning that when laws are changed "because of things that hurt us personally … we end up with laws that aren’t very balanced."

Marshall Thompson, director of the Utah Sentencing Commission, also spoke against the bill, saying "the feelings and sentiments are valued and should be considered by this body."

However, the commission only looks at three values: "reducing the risk to public safety, rehabilitating the offenders and finding restitution for victims," he said.

Thompson said there is no evidence that the current sentencing system is failing.

"We don't think it would protect the lives of the dogs anymore than (the statute) already does," he said.