Pass Rocco’s Law

Published Feb 5, 2014 at 6:41 am (Updated Feb 3, 2014 at 11:32 am)

Pittsburgh Police lost an officer on Jan. 30, as a result of injuries sustained in the line of duty.

An emotional procession by police took the officer from the hospital where he died, past his home, and to the cemetery, and flags in the city flew at half mast on Friday, per City of Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto.

Rocco, an 8-year-old German shepherd, was a K-9 officer, but that doesn’t make his death any less tragic, emotional or punishable. However, current laws do not differentiate between the punishment for taunting and teasing a K-9 officer and killing a K-9 officer. Local legislators are aiming to change that with “Rocco’s Law.”

Sen. Matt Smith (D-Mt. Lebanon), along with seven other senators in Allegheny County, would like to see the penalty for killing a police dog be a second-degree felony with a prison sentence up to 10 years. If it passes, Rocco’s Law would closely mirror the federal law for killing a K-9 officer, which, in addition to jail time, carries a $1,000 fine.

State Rep. Jesse White (D-Cecil) is introducing a House version of Rocco’s Law, but is taking things a step further and is hoping to make intentionally killing a K-9 officer and the killing of a human officer equally punishable – a first-degree felony with a $25,000 fine and up to 20 years in prison. Under White’s proposal, the reckless or negligent killing of a K-9 officer would be a second-degree felony and injuring a K-9 officer would remain a third-degree felony.

We support both measures, but we favor White’s. K-9 officers are indeed police officers who serve, protect and uphold the law. They go through rigorous training in order to be able to do their jobs, and the loss of a K-9 officer results in a void on the force.

Any dog owner will tell you that they view their animal as a member of the family – and there is no exception when it comes to police dogs. Rocco’s handler, Officer Philip Lerza is now without his partner, and the department as a whole is down an officer.

In reference to the possible legislation, State Rep. Brandon Neuman (D-North Strabane) said, “They are being used and trained more and more often, and we’re getting more and more canine units in the area every year, because of the great asset that these canines bring to our departments.”

With any luck, Rocco’s Law will be easily passed and Rocco’s name and legacy will live on.

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