Unified Police Department
Dingo, a 7-year-old Belgian Malinois with the Unified Police Department was shot and killed while helping U.S. Marshals take a wanted fugitive into custody.

SALT LAKE CITY — A bill increasing the penalty for killing a K-9 police dog passed the Senate on Tuesday after debate over whether it puts too much value on a canine life.

"This bill recognizes that when a criminal attacks a canine officer, they are not just attacking police property, but they are attacking a police partner," the sponsor of SB57, Senate Minority Caucus Manager Jani Iwamoto, D-Holladay, said.

SB57, which passed 20-6 and now goes to the House, would boost intentionally or knowingly causing the death of police dog from a third-degree felony to a second-degree felony.

Iwamoto said the K-9 police dogs killed in the line of duty were protecting humans.

"This bill does not place the lives of animals above humans. Just the opposite," she said, detailing the heroics of several police dogs. "If you value human lives, then you should value our police animals who save human lives."

Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, tried unsuccessfully to weaken the bill through an amendment.

"I’m taking a stand on this because I don’t believe a dog’s life is worth less than a human’s life," Weiler said. He argued that a number of crimes that result in a human's death carry lesser penalties.

Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, said he doesn't believe the bill "put animals on par with human beings," pointing out that targeting the life of a human police officer carries a stiffer penalty.

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A debate carried over from the bill's preliminary Senate approval Monday, about whether the financial limits used to determine the degree of a felony crime needed to be changed, continued to carry some sway.

Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, took the rare step of explaining his vote against the bill, saying that discussion "highlighted the dysfunction" in criminal penalties.

Until that's fixed, Niederhauser said he could not decide whether the penalty for killing a police dog should be increased.