Pa. House passes Rocco’s Law

New legislation increases penalties for harming, killing police animals

March 18, 2014
This undated photo provided by the Pittsburgh Police Department shows Pittsburgh K-9 Officer Rocco, who was stabbed Jan. 28 in the line of duty as police arrested a man on warrants for probation violations and failing to register as a sex offender. The state House passed legislation Tuesday to stiffen penalties for injuring or killing a police dog. - Pittsburgh Police Department / AP Photo

Acting in the name of Rocco, Pittsburgh’s police dog who died earlier this year in the line of duty, members of the Pennsylvania House unanimously passed legislation Tuesday increasing the penalties for attacking or killing a K-9 while it is on duty.

State Rep. John Maher, R-Upper St. Clair, whose district includes Peters Township, sponsored the bill, which passed Tuesday afternoon.

Maher, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, said the vote was recorded 201 to 0 with two members absent.

The legislator said he checked applicable law after Rocco’s death six weeks ago in Pittsburgh and found it to be a “peculiar equation that taunting was the same as killing.”

House Bill 2026 that passed Tuesday refers to “police animals,” not just dogs, so it also applies, for example, to horses used by mounted police units.

Under Maher’s legislation, a perpetrator would be charged with a felony of the second degree for the willful or malicious torture of a police dog, or if he or she, mutilates, injures, disables, poisons or kills a police animal. It carries a maximum fine of $25,000 and 10 years in prison.

“Rocco’s death was a senseless tragedy,” said Maher in a news release. “Any officer will tell you these dogs are intelligent, well-trained and fiercely loyal. The pain of losing one is felt strongly.”

The Pennsylvania Fraternal Order of Police supports Maher’s legislation. The state Department of Agriculture oversees dog law enforcement regarding the welfare of dogs and puppies. Maher has received recognition from both the Humane Society of the United States and the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine for crusading against animal cruelty.

Maher won’t be getting any joyous licks from Fido on the home front for his efforts.

“I’m a cat guy,” he said. “You can quote me.”

State Sen. Matt Smith, D-Mt. Lebanon, who also represents Peters along with other communities in southern and western Allegheny County, is sponsoring similar legislation in the state Senate. For the bill to become law, the Senate must act before the end of October.

State Rep. Jesse White, D-Cecil, who also introduced stiffer penalties for those who injure or kill a police dog on duty, said Tuesday, “The majority party sets the agenda on what bills move. I fully support the Maher version of the bill. It addresses the fundamental problem, which is really all that matters.”

Rocco died from multiple stab wounds in late January after police said he was attacked by John Lewis Rush, 21, formerly of McKees Rocks, in a vacant house in Pittsburgh’s Lawrenceville neighborhood. Rush was wanted on warrants for probation violations and failing to register as a sex offender.

Rush, who remains incarcerated in Allegheny County jail, would not be penalized under a future Rocco’s Law because its provisions would take effect only if and after the governor signs it.

Barbara S. Miller covers politics, Washington County government and a variety of other topics for the Observer-Reporter. She is a graduate of Washington & Jefferson College, majoring in English and history. Follow her on Twitter @reporterbarb.

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