State looks at increasing penalties for assaulting or killing law enforcement animals

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JEFFERSON CITY — Assaulting or killing a law enforcement animal could soon carry much harsher penalties.

Currently, assaulting a law enforcement animal is a Class C misdemeanor and killing an animal is a Class E felony. Under new legislation approved by a House committee, assaulting a law enforcement animal would become a Class A misdemeanor and killing an animal would be a Class C felony.

This means a person could serve up to one year in jail or possibly face a fine of $2,000 for assaulting an animal and up to 10 years or possibly a fine of $10,000 for killing one. This a big change from the current law, which only holds a punishment of 15 days in jail for assault and up to four years for death.

The same legislation was proposed last year to little pushback. It made it all the way to the House of Representatives, but it was never taken up for a vote. Again this year, the bill has sailed through committees with no testimony on either side and only few objections.

One of those objections came from Rep. Deb Lavender, D-St. Louis, after Wednesday's committee hearing on legislative oversight.

"I want to support our officers in the field in every way I can," Lavender said. "I just don't think we need stricter penalties for this."

Gov. Eric Greitens surprised bill sponsor Rep. Robert Cornejo, R-St. Charles, when he took to Facebook to express support for the bill on Jan. 24.

"We need to strengthen Missouri's laws. These K-9's do incredible work on behalf of our people," Greitens wrote.

Cornejo said that he found out the governor backed the bill the same way as everyone else: by reading it online.

The governor nicknamed the bill, "Champ's Law," after a police dog he met while visiting some Kansas City police officers. Champ was stabbed in the neck while pursuing a suspect.

The next step for the bill would be a vote by the full House of Representatives.

Supervising editor is Mark Horvit, horvitm@missouri.edu.

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