Law enforcement unions are hoping the Legislature will pass a bill that allows K-9s to stay on the job instead of being quarantined after biting crime suspects.
The bill, House Bill 2605, removes the 72-hour quarantine requirement for K-9 officers who bite suspects. It is being sponsored by Rep. J.D. Mesnard (R-Chandler) and made its way out of the state House's government committee last week.
Mesnard said the bill's intent is to make sure the state's 400 K-9 officers stay in service after biting a suspect, which is something the dog is supposed to do only under command, such as during a home invasion, a business invasion or attacking someone with a weapon.
The bill is being supported by police unions around the state, including the Mesa Police Association which has the second-largest police K-9 unit among city police departments in the state. Mesa has 13 dogs serve on patrol and in drug and explosive detection. The association supported the bill early on.
The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office has the most K-9 officers in the Valley (24). The Arizona Department of Public Safety has about 30 dogs.
Chandler, which began its K-9 unit in 1974, has five K-9 officers, and the Gilbert and Tempe police departments each have three K-9 officers, according to their web sites.
Levi Bolton, the legislative liaison for the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, said they began pushing for such a bill about a year ago after one of the smaller agencies is represents came to them expressing concern that their dogs were being taken off the streets. That department has a limited number of K-9 officers.
Bolton said Arizona would be following similar laws that about 18 other states have in place involving police K-9s.
"These animals have better medical records than you or I," Bolton said. "They're a valuable tool, a well-trained, well-hone tool. If some of them are doing double duty, such as a narcotics dog or a bomb-sniffing dog, taking them out of service can be critical. We're looking for a statutory provision that would allow for animals that have regimented vaccinations and check-ups not to be quarantined, but to be monitored in the event they start acting differently after a bite."
State law requires unvaccinated dogs to be quarantined for 10 days after biting someone. K-9 officers are vaccinated.
Brian Livingston, executive director of the Arizona Law Enforcement Association which represents 23 law enforcement agencies throughout the states that have K-9 officers, said Friday that taking one of the dogs out of service is like taking an officer off the streets and would be critical to smaller police departments that only have one K-9.
"If you think of an officer being out for 72 hours, that's being out of service for nearly one week, and that is excessive in our minds," Livingston said. "The dogs already are well-checked medically and undergo rabies testing. Our concern is keeping the dogs in service and not so much litigation or being sued when someone is bitten."
Most of Mesa's dogs are Belgian Malinois bred in The Netherlands or Belgium. The unit also has two Labrador retrievers, one black and one yellow. The cost of a K-9 officer alone ranges from $5,000 to $8,000.
Under the bill, the dog's handlers would be required to report whether the dog is behaving abnormally after it bites a suspect. The bill will next be discussed before the full House of Representatives. If passed, it would progress to the state Senate.
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