Police departments all across America have official working dogs in their department, and for good reason. Dogs help the police search for drugs and explosives and assist in other special areas like search and rescue missions.
Police dogs have many different jobs, but one thing most of them have in common is that they are assigned a human police officer as their handler, caretaker and partner. Officers who work in K9 units train their dogs and are responsible for the animal’s well being, or at least they are supposed to be. However, in just the past six months at least four police working dogs have died from heat stroke after their partners abandoned them in a locked car. Adding insult to injury, in most cases, the officers responsible for the dog’s deaths receive little to no punishment for their gross negligence.
The most recent death occurred when Sgt. Brett Harrison, an officer from Montville Township, Ohio, left Benny, his 2-year-old German Shepherd, in a police cruiser for more than four hours on a hot day with the windows rolled up. Harrison said the death was an accident and thought the left the cruiser on. Harrison’s superiors have supported him, saying they believe it was an accident. Harrison was suspended for two weeks without pay and lost 40 hours of vacation time.
Police Chief Terry Grice said Harrison will be reassigned, but he will not be given another police dog. The Medina County Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was assigned to review Harrison’s case and have the authority to decide if Harrison will face criminal charges.
While it is great that the society for prevention of cruelty to animals is reviewing the case, the department should have levied heavier punishment against Harrison in the first place. Accident or not, Harrison’s gross negligence led to an animal suffering a horrible death. At the very least Harrison should have his badge taken away. After all, if he can’t be trusted with the life of a dog, he can’t be trusted with the lives of American citizens.
However, Harrison’s case is not an exception. Other police dogs have died in similar manners this year as well. In September, Deputy Kevin Williams of Duplin County, North Carolina, received a phone call and learned one of his children was sick and he needed to be picked up. Williams left his 5-year-old Belgian Shepherd, Kela, in his car overnight and found his K9 partner dead the next morning. Williams was never charged but was reassigned to serve as a bailiff.
In July, Nyz, a black lab trained to locate narcotics, died when Officer Zachary Miller of Mills, Wyo., left him in a vehicle to go inside the police department, where dogs are allowed. Miller left his vehicle on but didn’t turn the air conditioning on and left the windows rolled up. Miller was suspended without pay for one week.
In April, Arizona Officer Jesse Dorantes abandoned his partner inside a vehicle for seven hours. Dorantes said he got in his personal car to go care for his sick child,and forgot the dog was in his police vehicle. By the time Dorantes remembered, his K9 partner was dead. Dorantes was acquitted of all charges.
Harrison could very well face criminal charges but it seems unlikely based off the trend from the other recent cases similar to his, and that is outrageous. Assuming that all of these officers told the truth and the K9 deaths were an accident, they should still be held accountable for their gross negligence and face far worse punishment than a short suspension.
Only 16 states specifically prohibit locking dogs in a vehicle, including Arizona and North Carolina, but there are many city and county ordinances that regulate this behavior to at least some degree.
Even in the absence of a specific state or local law, people can still be punished for leaving their animals in a confined vehicle. For example, in the 1985 Texas case of Lopez v. State, the defendant left his dog in a car on a hot day and was convicted under the state’s animal cruelty laws, even though the dog lived. The defendant was sentenced to five days in jail, a $50 fine and six months probation, and the dog didn’t die.
Yet these officers got a slap on the wrist when their negligence led to the deaths of police working dogs. These dogs were paid for and owned by the taxpayers and were charged with keeping the public and their human partner safe.
In many areas, if a suspect harms a police dog, they can be charged with assaulting an officer, and police dog handlers should be held to the same standard. These officers should be charged with abandoning their fellow officer and leaving them to die of exposure.
Some may argue that situations like this aren’t a big deal since the victims are dogs, and that the officers can be excused for their negligence because dogs’ lives aren’t as important as humans’ lives are. Others might say that some of these officers did receive some form of punishment and, since every case is different, we should trust that each individual police department handled their situation appropriately.
But it doesn’t matter how much someone values a dog’s life compared to a human’s life because there is a bigger picture. Animal cruelty laws exist regardless of personal opinions.
The previously mentioned officers could have actually ticketed or arrested people for animal cruelty violations themselves and they should be held to the same standard as the public. If anything, they should be held to a higher standard.
The taxpayers owned these dogs. The K9 officers served and protected taxpayer communities and were abandoned to die an awful and painful death.
But even if that isn’t enough, trained police officers are responsible for these deaths. Police officers who are entrusted to enforce laws and protect our communities through any means necessary up to and including deadly force were so negligent and absent-minded that they forgot about their abandoned partner locked in a hot vehicle.
Every one of these officers gave a statement that expressed how much they loved and cared for their animal. How can Americans trust their police officers to act responsibly and cautiously if the officer can’t even remember not to lock their beloved K9 partner in a hot car?
The simple fact of the matter is that these officers can’t be trusted to patrol our communities, armed with deadly weapons, and act responsibly under pressure.
No matter how good of a person they may be, what their intention was, or how sorry they are, they have proven they can’t be trusted with other’s lives, dog or human. Every state’s animal cruelty laws should determine these officers’ criminal punishments, but none of them should be wearing a badge and a uniform anymore.