INDIANAPOLIS – An Indiana bill seeks to raise the penalty for killing police animals.

Back in November of 2019, a Fishers Police K9 was shot and killed during a pursuit for a dangerous suspect. The bill’s author said his proposal stems back to that very incident.

Right now, it is a Level 6 felony for killing a police animal.

“You could steal a police K9 and it’s a level 6 felony. And if you kill it, it’s also a level six felony,” Republican State Rep. Chris Jeter said. “Which to me did not seem proportional. So this bill just really moves it up to a level 5 [felony].”

Jeter said he believes the current punishment for the crime is too low. House Bill 1306 would raise the crime to a Level 5 felony, which is punishable by one to six years behind bars. That would be up from the current six months to two years under a Level 6 felony.

Fishers Police K9 Harlej was killed in action after leading a police pursuit and locating the suspect, who already had a dangerous criminal record. Harlej’s handler, Officer Jarred Koopman, said police dogs killed in the line of duty deserve more justice.

“We always say in the canine world, we use those dogs so the handler can go home safe to their families, so other people in the department can go home safe to their families,” Koopman said. “The fact that at the end of the day when I deployed Harlej, and he was killed in the line of duty, he saved a lot of lives, including mine.”

Rep. Jeter said there was an outpouring of community support after Harlej was killed. This inspired him to write the bill.

“Our communities value these canines as police officers, and that’s how we should treat them,” he said.

Opponents worry tinkering with criminal punishments and moving one puts the rest out of balance. Jeter said he believes moving the punishment to a Level 5 felony from a Level 6 felony is reasonable, as opposed to moving it to a Level 2 felony.

“I think the uphill battle that you run into is people still view them as just animals, where we as police officers see them as a member of our department,” Koopman said.

To this day, Koopman said he is grateful to Harlej.

“I’ll get emotional talking about it still to this day,” he said. “The most overwhelming feeling that I get is just a sense of pride, because 99% of what we do is train for the one instance where we do need a canine in a situation like that. Knowing that he did everything he was trained to do and allowed me to go home to my kids, I take a lot of pride in it.”

The bill already passed in the House by a vote of 89-8. It now moves to the Senate for consideration.