Unified Police Sgt. Chad Reyes remembers the July day of last year when he lost his K9 partner, Dingo.
They were in pursuit of a car when the suspect came to a stop, jumped out and began running. Dingo soon caught up to the man and made contact, but the man pulled out a gun and shot Dingo three times.
“It is impossible to attempt to explain to you … the bond that I shared with Dingo," a visibly emotional Reyes told state lawmakers during a hearing on Monday.
The Unified police officer is supporting a proposed bill from Sen. Jani Iwamoto, D-Holladay, that would enhance penalties for killing a police service animal. It would make it a second-degree felony to kill a police dog in the line of duty and a third-degree felony for injuring the animal.
“The police service dog has saved civilian lives as well as police officers’ lives, and I just have a difficult time understanding how, again, you can damage or injure a prized cow or prized horse and get a second degree felony, but you can kill a police dog and only be charged with a third," he said.
Reyes said police K9s cost the department about $9,000 each. They take an additional $30,000-$50,000 in staff resources to train.
The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing was packed with police K9 handlers who came to show support.
The legislation cleared its first hurdle after the committee gave the legislation a favorable recommendation, 5-1.
The Utah Sentencing Commission opposed the bill, saying the increased penalties will likely not act as additional deterrance.
"It's not that we don't love dogs," said Marshall Thompson, director of the commission.
"When we look at the nature of this crime, it's a reactive crime. It's not something that's really amenable to a lot of deterrent value," he said. "In particular, we don't think it will make police dogs more safe to make this a second degree felony."