When police officers retire from service in Ohio, it sometimes means saying goodbye to their closest colleagues — their K-9 partners.
But a recent controversy in Marietta prompted one state legislator to draft a bill allowing officers and their dogs to stick together after retirement.
Sen. Lou Gentile, D-Steubenville, announced in a news release this week that he is working on a bill allowing retiring police officers to purchase their K-9 partners or equine unit horses or at “ fair market value” from the law enforcement agency.
“We recognize the close bond that exists between law enforcement officers and their K-9 partners,” Gentile said in the release. “Officers and their dogs spend every day together, risking their lives to protect our communities. They should be given the option to spend retirement together, but unfortunately state law is standing in the way.”
Currently, officers are only allowed to hold on to their police dogs if the dogs themselves are due for retirement. At that point, they can purchase the dogs for a dollar.
If an officer retires, however, the dogs are likely to be put up for auction.
The bill is a response to the stir caused by retiring Marietta police officer Matthew Hickey, who offered to purchase his K-9 partner, Ajax, for $3,500 last week.
“There was a flaw in state law that prevented Marietta from taking necessary action to resolve this issue, and this bill will fix that,” Gentile said.
Hickey’s unit offered to keep him on staff as an auxiliary officer, allowing him to retain custody of the dog. But, despite the offer, an online campaign was launched to help raise funds allowing him to purchase the dog. The campaign raised $70,000.
The release said the bill would be introduced in the Senate in “the near future.”
“This bill seeks to strike a balance between the best interest of the K-9 officer and protecting taxpayers’ dollars by giving local government the authority to decide,” Gentile said. “It gives one more option to local governments and to the police officer to keep the bond between dog and handler whole if they decide that is the best outcome.”
William T. Perkins is a fellow in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism Statehouse News Bureau.