ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (FOX 13) - The Florida legislature took a big step Wednesday toward harsher punishments for anyone who injures or kills law enforcement K-9 officers.
The proposed law, which was unanimously approved in the Senate, sends a message to people who come in contact with K-9 officers. Tampa Police Officer Ryan Flannigan, a K-9 trainer and handler, shared his relationship with his K-9, Pancho, and why the animals are so important to the force.
“Pancho is very fast, high speed, jumps 8-foot fences with no problem. I can't keep up with him if I'm not holding onto him,” said Flannigan, who has trained K-9 Pancho since the dog was 8 weeks old.
The 3-year-old Belgian Malinois and Flannigan work together every day.
“He's been working the street as a dual-certified police dog. He's a patrol dog and an explosives detection dog,” said Flannigan.
And since police dogs like Pancho face real threats, the legislature is working to protect them.
“You put a lot of training and a lot of time and effort into these dogs,” said Flannigan.
Last week, K-9 Titan with St. Petersburg police was shot along with a Pinellas County deputy. They are both recovering. And in 2017, a suspect threw flaming liquid on a Tampa police officer and K-9 Indo.
Currently, the crime comes with a third-degree felony charge and up to five years in prison. The proposed law would make the crime a second-degree felony and increase jail time up to 15 years.
“For us, they are as close as you can get to an immediate family member,” said Flannigan.
Officers said they are the last line of defense between them and a suspect.
“Ultimately, they are there to serve a purpose and that is to protect other people,” said Flannigan.
Under the proposed bill, a person who is convicted would have to pay the cost to replace the K-9 if the K-9 isn’t able to work anymore. It would cover police horses, too. The bill still has to go for a vote in the Florida House. If it passes, the law would go in effect in October.