By Keysha Drexel
A proposed bill under review by a state House of Representatives committee is aimed at better protecting the four-legged police officers in Over the Mountain and other cities across the state.
Sponsored by Rep. Paul DeMarco, R-Homewood, and others, House Bill 259 would make it a Class C felony to harass, assault or injure a police animal or search and rescue animal or their handlers. The bill extends protection to horses and other animals that work with law enforcement agencies.
The bill was introduced to the state House of Representatives on Feb. 12, according to Tom Hale, a litigation attorney who helped draft the legislation.
Hale represents the Homewood Police Department and other law enforcement agencies around the state.
He said he got the idea for the proposed bill from his 22-year-old son, Rob, who is studying criminal justice at the University of North Alabama.
“Rob mentioned to me that currently, Alabama law only makes it a crime to kill a police dog. That’s the first time I became aware of this very limited, archaic law, and I thought that doing something to better protect these animals was long overdue,” he said.
Hale said there are about 250 law enforcement dogs in service around the state.
Hale said he has firsthand knowledge of the important work K9 units do from working with the Homewood Police Department. The department last year established its first K9 unit with two dogs and two handlers.
“Officer (Keith) Smith has been a tremendous advocate to extending police protection to his partner, Shiloh, and we know the other officers who have K9 partners feel just as strongly about it as he does,” Hale said.
Smith said he is not satisfied with the current law on the books because it provides no penalties for those who might injure or harass a police dog or search and rescue animal.
“I think it is time Alabama made a commitment to protect my partner, a four-legged officer that will, without hesitation or fear, face danger to do his job and to protect our citizens,” Smith said.
DeMarco said he’s requested House Bill 259 be heard in committee and hopes that review to happen within the next couple of weeks.
“If it gets a favorable review from the committee, it will go on to the full House for consideration and then over to a Senate committee for review,” he said.