MARTIN COUNTY, Fla. — Support is growing to give harsher punishments to anyone who injures, disables or kills a law enforcement K-9.
On Wednesday, the Florida Senate unanimously passed a bill that supports making the offense a second-degree felony with a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.
Currently, the offense is a third-degree felony punishable by up to five5 years in prison.
The bill received unanimous support in the Senate.
The men and women who work with K-9s daily also support the measure.
Martin County Sheriff’s Deputy Ryan Pearlman has been a part of the K-9 unit for a year and is the handler for his K-9, Nero.
“He does patrol and narcotics,” Pearlman said.
Wednesday, Pearlman did some training with Nero to keep his skills sharp, such as alerting to drugs in a vehicle or chasing a potential suspect on cue.
“He’s a very good boy,” Pearlman said. “He tracked a burglary suspect the other day, and tracked right to another blood stain where the burglar had cut themselves when they were breaking in.”
K9s are just one more crime-fighting tool to keep the community safe. But, their safety is not always guaranteed.
“One thing you go over in school and training is you don’t send the dogs on a suicide mission. If we know that there’s a good probability the dog is going to get shot or severely injured, most of the time we’re not going to send the dog,” Pearlman explained.
But, that danger cannot always be predicted. Our community was reminded of that as recently as last Christmas Eve.
K-9 Cigo, with the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, was shot and killed by a man running from deputies.
“I can’t even imagine that. I would be so upset. It would be a horrible day,” Pearlman said, which is why he supports tougher punishments proposed in the bill making its way through the legislature.
"We put so much work into these dogs and they’re there to protect us. So, a lot of times, if they get injured or killed it could have been us, and they sacrifice their life for us,” Pearlman said.
The tougher penalty, if passed, would also apply to anyone who seriously injures or kills police horses or dogs used by fire departments and search and rescue teams.