Campaign launched to protect police animals in Scotland
Scotland has joined the parliamentary race to bring extra protection for police animals.
Conservatives north of the border have launched a campaign calling for a new criminal offence of causing injury to police dogs and horses.
Their push has been backed by animal welfare groups as currently offenders who attack service animals face only a scant patchwork of laws considered “unfit for purpose”.
The Scottish Conservatives claim their proposed legislation would “adequately punish” those who harm trained animals which serve law enforcement, the fire and rescue service, military or other public services. It could also cover assistance animals like guide dogs.
The case for criminal redress has become stronger in recent years due to a string of high-profile court actions where police service animals have been attacked – Newcastle United supporter Barry Rogerson jailed for punching a police horse in 2013 being the most notable.
The political move north of the border comes as police dogs in England are being provided with new equipment to shield them against acts of violence as they wait for legislation to offer added protection.
Avon and Somerset Constabulary, Gloucestershire Constabulary and Wiltshire Police are leading the way with trialing specialist body armour for its “highly valued members” of the team.
The tri-force’s nine dogs that currently support tactical firearms’ officers are trying out various options in protective vests across tri-force to best deal with their search duties as well as crowd control.
News of the Scottish campaign follows extra parliamentary protection for police animals being put on hold after the UK Government raised an objection.
The Service Animals (Offences) Bill – dubbed Finn’s Law after a Hertfordshire Constabulary police dog that needed life-saving surgery for wounds sustained saving his handler PC Dave Wardell from a knife-wielding suspect – was due to be debated in Parliament in late February but was postponed as Ministers raised concerns over the need for extra legislation.
Scottish campaign lead Liam Kerr said: “Service animals are highly trained members of Police Scotland and are repeatedly put in dangerous situations.
“We ask them to work for us and risk their lives to keep us safe and yet the law does not fully protect them when they are hurt.
“Introducing a criminal offence of causing injury will ensure criminals who attack police animals are dealt with effectively, raise awareness of the severity of the crime and deter further attacks.
“Ultimately this gives service animals the legal protection they deserve and goes some, small way, to saying thank them for their dedicated service.”
Mr Kerr made his announcement after visiting the Police Scotland dog unit in Baluniefield, Dundee with Chief Inspector Neil Anderson.
Chief Insp Anderson said that although the force cannot actively support any campaign to have laws created or amended, “this does not prevent us from welcoming any potential legislation which can provide further support to our officers, dogs, horses, or other specialist units in the future, particularly in areas beneficial to their welfare”.
PC Wardell, in welcoming the campaign, added: “Isn’t it about time that these amazing animals are recognised for the incredibly important role they play in helping and protecting us?
“Isn’t it about time these animals were protected in law by having their own specific offence of assaulting them?”
Animal welfare charity Scottish SPCA said it would fully support efforts to introduce new laws.