are police dogs “technically officers of the law”?

Posted in Uncategorized by Ryan Locke on April 20, 2009


This won’t stop actual officers of the law from trying to convince you otherwise.  Only a few weeks ago, as I was applying for my SENTRI pass at the Brownsville border crossing, a Customs and Border Patrol officer warned me to keep my dog on a leash whenever I cross the border.  “We don’t want your dog to jump out of the car and get into a fight with one of our dogs–after all, our dogs are technically officers just like me.”  I was almost certain this wasn’t true, so I asked, “Are you sure?  I don’t think dogs are officers.”  “On yes,” she said, “they even have little badges on their collars.”

Well, a police dog is no more an officer than Mudpie is a diplomat.  It’s true that the law enforcement dogs get little badges and have their own swearing-in ceremonies (Sometimes they’re even trained to bark in affirmation to the oath.  Mudpie does not have a diplomatic passport and has not been sworn in.).  And when a police dog dies, police officers are understandably upset:

“The way we feel about it, they (police dogs) are no different from an officer,” said Matt Forsyth, the department’s K-9 unit supervisor and trainer. “They’re one of our partners and another officer.”

Even though police dogs are not officers, they do receive heightened protection.  Under 18 U.S.C. section 1368(a):

Whoever willfully and maliciously harms any police animal, or attempts or conspires to do so, shall be fined under this title and imprisoned not more than 1 year. If the offense permanently disables or disfigures the animal, or causes serious bodily injury to or the death of the animal, the maximum term of imprisonment shall be 10 years.

Section 1368 is located in the “Malicious Mischief” section between “Interference with the Operation of a Satellite” and “Destruction of Veterans’ Memorials.”  Most states also have laws protecting police dogs.  Georgia’s law, at O.C.G.A. section 16-11-107(b), is:

Any person who knowingly and intentionally destroys or causes serious or debilitating physical injury to a police dog or police horse, knowing said dog to be a police dog or said horse to be a police horse, shall be guilty of a felony and, upon conviction thereof, shall be punished by imprisonment for not less than one nor more than five years, or a fine not to exceed $10,000.00, or both. This subsection shall not apply to the destruction of a police dog or police horse for humane purposes.

For some perspective on the level of punishment for harming a police dog, anyone who merely “forcibly assaults, resists, opposes, impedes, intimidates, or interferes with” a federal officer can be imprisoned for up to one year, or up to 8 years if he touched the officer or intended to commit another felony, or up to 20 years if he uses a deadly or dangrous weapon or inflicts bodily injury, 18 U.S.C. section 111.

So, shooting a dog is serious, but no more so than touching a federal officer.


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