Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Nelson Albano, Matthew Milam and Gilbert “Whip” Wilson upgrading penalties for anyone that threatens or harms a law enforcement animal was advanced by a Senate Panel on Thursday.
“Often times, law enforcement animals are on the front lines, putting themselves in harm’s way right along with their human counterparts,” said Albano (D-Cape May/Atlantic/Cumberland). “They are highly trained and a tremendous asset to police operations. Any intentional harm inflicted on these animals is not only cruel, but it impedes law enforcement operations and negates the enormous time and effort put into training these highly specialized animals.”
The bill (A-495), known as “Dano’s Law,” would upgrade the penalties for killing, maiming, inflicting harm, or interfering with an animal owned or used by a law enforcement agency or a search and rescue dog or for threatening to do so.
The bill is named for the canine partner of Somerset County Sheriff’s Officer Capt. Tim Pino, who was threatened during an incident in Hillsboro several years when local police had stopped a suspected drug dealer and asked for assistance from the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office. The suspected dealer’s boyfriend then appeared on the scene and tried to distract police by threatening to kill Dano. Afterwards, Capt. Pino found that, under current law, the boyfriend could only be charged with a disorderly person’s offense for threatening Dano.
“As a retired Camden Police Lieutenant this bill has special meaning to me,” said Wilson (D-Camden). “Dano, like many law enforcement animals, is invaluable to the community and the officers he serves alongside. The full weight of the law should be behind them to provide protection against any unscrupulous offenders who might try to inflict harm while breaking the law.”
Current law provides that any person who: (1) purposely kills an animal owned or used by the police is guilty of a crime of the third degree; (2) purposely maims or otherwise inflicts harm upon an animal owned or used by the police is guilty of a crime of the fourth degree; (3) interferes with any law enforcement officer using an animal in the performance of his official duties is guilty of a disorderly persons offense.
“Dano, like many K-9 partners, is more than just a dog to his community,” said Milam (D-Cape May/Atlantic/Cumberland). “He is a vital asset to law enforcement officers and all law-abiding citizens. This law will ensure that all K-9 counterparts have strong protections against criminal threats.”
The bill would also upgrade the offense from a fourth degree crime to a third degree crime for purposely maiming or otherwise inflicting harm upon a dog, horse, or other animal owned or used by a law enforcement agency or a search and rescue dog. While a fourth degree crime is punishable by up to 18 months in jail, a fine of up to $10,000, or both, a third degree crime is punishable by three to five years in jail, a fine of up to $15,000, or both.
Furthermore, the bill also adds a provision to the current law that a person who purposely threatens to kill, maim or otherwise inflict harm upon a dog, horse or other animal owned or used by a law enforcement agency or a search and rescue dog, under circumstances reasonably causing the person to whom the threat is made to believe that it is likely that it will be carried out, is guilty of a crime of the third degree.
The measure was approved 5 to 0 by the Senate Economic Growth Committee and now awaits consideration by the full Senate.