JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Less than two months after K-9 Fang with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office was shot and killed in the line of duty, state Sen. Aaron Bean has followed through with his promise to propose new legislation to toughen the penalty for those who commit such crimes.
Currently in Florida, killing a police dog is a third-degree felony -- which carries a sentence of up to five years in prison. When the I-TEAM told this to Bean following Fang's death, the Republican senator from Jacksonville vowed to try and change the law.
"It's the Fang Memorial Bill, which will hold people accountable for murdering a police dog," Bean told the I-TEAM.
Bean filed the bill Tuesday which, if it passes, would make harming a police, fire or search and rescue dog in the state of Florida a second-degree felony -- tripling the maximum prison sentence to up to 15 years. A companion bill was filed in the House by state Rep. Josie Tomkow and state Rep. Cord Byrd.
“Meeting with JSO and other officers, how Fang was a part of the family, and I think everybody was shocked to find out it’s only a third-degree felony to murder a police dog or a police horse, and so we’re going to change that," said Bean. “A second-degree felony is where we want it to be to give our prosecutors ample resources to hold people accountable.”
Before writing this new bill, Bean also met with police K-9 advocate Debbie Johnson -- the founder of the nonprofit K9s United. Fang was killed Sept. 30, and the next day, Johnson started an online petition to increase Florida's penalty for those convicted of killing a law enforcement K-9 -- a petition which continues to be shared and now has more than 23,000 signatures.
"There's no doubt in my mind, that (Fang) saved his handler that night," Johnson said. "If we can strengthen the laws, that street-smart criminal might stop and think that they might serve more time if they kill a K-9."
Bean believes his bill will pass, saying it has the support of fellow state senators and representatives.
"It’s amazing how much interest -- people who love dogs, people who love law enforcement, which is basically the entire state. Everybody is coming together."
JSO Patrol Chief Mat Nemeth says he appreciates the communities support.
”The outpouring and the outrage came much more from the community than it did from law enforcement after Fang's murder. They're the ones that really drove this to the attention of Senator Bean in order to change this legislation,” Nemeth told the I-TEAM.
He says more than 100 police K-9s were killed across the country this year, and those dogs likely saved lives.
"That means it's upwards of 100 police officers that could have and may have been killed were it not for that police dog, police K-9," said Nemeth. "It's a critical partnership that without them here across the country doing the job that they do, we would have lost innumerable human lives -- so we have to keep that in perspective."
State Attorney Melissa Nelson's Office told the I-TEAM it "supports laws that protect law enforcement."
If it passes, this bill would take effect Oct. 1, 2019.