Right move: K-9 cop put on leave - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Right move: K-9 cop put on leave

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Posted: Wednesday, August 15, 2007 2:27 am | Updated: 6:33 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

“The sergeant is very upset about this,” a Chandler police spokesman said in Tuesday’s Tribune, about the death of a police dog named Bandit left in a department-issue SUV for 13 hours Saturday.

Sgt. Tom Lovejoy, the head of Chandler’s K-9 unit and the man who will have to live with his mistake for the rest of his life, is not the only one who’s upset.

Public reaction to the death of this animal has been as emotional, if not more so, than the outpouring after an officer was shot to death in a check-cashing store and when another was killed by a drunken driver while on the way to work. Aside from sniffing out bombs and drugs and going after fleeing suspects, specially trained dogs such as this 5-year-old Belgian Malinois serve as powerful goodwill ambassadors, capturing the hearts of animal lovers of all ages through public events such as the Desert Dog Police K-9 Trials, where Bandit and Lovejoy took fourth place this year.

So when a police dog is left to die in a hot car, many people are going to want the officer responsible to be severely punished, if not fired, and face criminal charges. Given the emotions at play here, there shouldn’t be a rush to judgment — in either direction.

Chandler police quickly ruled out a criminal investigation before it was generally known the car was parked on a county island and under the jurisdiction of the county sheriff’s and attorney’s offices, leaving Lovejoy at the mercy of two elected law enforcement officials who don’t shy away from high-profile cases.

Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas showed unusual restraint in a Tuesday press conference, where he said Lovejoy was distracted, so criminal intent may not exist: “Not every tragedy is a crime.”

But this tragedy calls into question the judgment of a person taxpayers rely upon to keep a level head in crisis situations, in order to save lives and act as a reliable witness throughout the legal process.

Lovejoy’s mistake led to what was at least the destruction of a piece of public property worth tens of thousands of dollars. Most reasonable people, including the devastated sergeant, agree Bandit was much more.

Chandler placed Lovejoy on administrative leave Tuesday, which is good since he likely isn’t in the right frame of mind to be of much help to the public at the moment. This lays the groundwork for figuring out what happened and if Lovejoy should be disciplined.

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