Jefferson City, MO – A bill that would have raised the penalties for injuring or murdering police K9 officers failed to pass on Monday, after a group of mostly black legislators suggested the bill was anti-black and said dealing with police accountability legislation was more important.
The bill was introduced after Cass County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) K9 Champ was stabbed in the neck while he assisted Harrisonville Police Department (HPD) officers in a pursuit and arrest on Dec. 11, 2017, The Kansas City Star reported.
K9 Champ, who officers found bleeding heavily from a 1 ½ inch stab wound to his neck, survived the attack, and has returned to duty, WDAF reported.
But under current law, his assailant faced a maximum of just 15 days in jail, and a fine of $700 – the same potential penalty for theft of a library book, according to WDAF.
“We need to strengthen Missouri’s laws,” Missouri Governor Eric Greitens told The Missouri Times. “These K-9s do incredible work on behalf of our people. They are trained, tough dogs, and they help keep Missourians safe.”
If enacted, the new law would have raised the penalty for incapacitation or murder of a K9 officer to three to 10 years. Defendants convicted of assaulting a K9 officer would have faced a year in jail and a $2,000 fine, The Kansas City Star reported.
The bill failed on a vote of 73 to 68, after some black members of the legislature raised concerns that passage of the bill would send a message that K9 officers were more important than the concerns of African-Americans.
According to the Associated Press, some Missouri House members argued that K9 officers were used by police to subdue black people.
“Police dogs historically, and to this day, have been used against African Americans,” Rep. Gail McCann Beatty said.
Opponents were also critical of the fact that the bill was among the first to be considered, while legislation related to police accountability had not been addressed.
Rep. Shamed Dogan noted that the potential penalties proposed in the bill were harsher than some sexual assault penalties. He also argued that citizens have a “right to defend” themselves against a K9 officer, and that the proposed measure would have eliminated that.
“Of course I want to protect our officers,” Dogan said, according to the Associated Press. “But giving special protections to their dogs I think is a step too far, and it’s a step that takes away my right to defend myself.”