When Kansas City police Mounted Patrol officers began helping control crowds in Westport in 2007, someone pelted a police horse with a beer bottle.
The next year, when police horses pushed back a group of stubborn loiterers in Westport, an inebriated man slapped a horse across the face.
This summer, a woman petting a police horse at 39th Street and Broadway suddenly smacked the horse’s face as hard as she could.
City prosecutors struggled to find applicable city ordinances to penalize the offenders. Prosecutors tried filing charges of disorderly conduct and hindering an officer, but judges threw the cases out.
“The facts just weren’t fitting very well,” said city Prosecutor Beth Murano.
Disgusted, Mounted Patrol Sgt. Joey Roberts pushed for change.
Police and city officials crafted a city ordinance that forbids abusing or interfering with police animals. The ordinance, which went into effect last month, carries penalties of up to a $500 fine and up to 180 days in jail.
It makes it a crime to “taunt, torment, strike or otherwise assault” a police service animal. It also forbids throwing objects or substances at police animals, feeding them without permission or releasing an animal from its trailer, kennel or police car.
“Police service animals serve their communities alongside their human partners,” the ordinance states. “They are active members of law enforcement, yet they are treated as simple items of property by the law if maltreated, injured or killed while performing the tasks required of them.”
The ordinance fills a gap, Roberts said. Existing state animal cruelty laws could apply if a police animal were seriously injured or killed, but police were left “helpless,” Roberts said, when people inflicted lower forms of abuse.
Roberts researched other cities’ ordinances and talked to other mounted patrol units while working on the new ordinance. Horses in other cities have endured worse abuse, he said.
Someone in Omaha, Neb., extinguished a cigar on a police horse about five years ago. A driver slammed his van into a beloved police horse in Toronto in 2006, causing fatal injuries.
Roberts said people have jumped or screamed at horses in Kansas City in attempts to spook the horses. Other people have set off fireworks nearby or squealed their vehicle tires, he said.
“They do all kinds of silly stuff,” Roberts said. “We don’t plan to go out and charge everybody … but we needed something to protect the animals.”
Roberts said the ordinance could protect officers and the public as well. People who scare horses or grab a horse’s reins, for example, could cause horses to bolt or kick, putting officers and others at risk, Roberts said.
Police horses are more susceptible to abuse, Roberts said, because their jobs involve working with crowds and mingling with residents.
“We’re within eight inches of people,” Roberts said.
Police dogs, on the other hand, are trained to bite and aren’t allowed public interaction, including being petted.
Still, people have teased police dogs by tapping on the patrol car windows or hissing at them, said Sgt. William Brown of Kansas City’s canine unit.
“You’d be surprised what people will do,” Brown said. “The dogs get really riled up. They could hurt themselves if they get too riled up inside the car.”
In 2004, a man bit off a piece of a Kansas City police dog’s ear when the dog tried to stop the man from fighting his officer-partner. Prosecutors charged the man with resisting arrest and assault for the fight with the officer, but not for injuring the dog.
The dogs are like family members, Brown said. “They spend every moment with us.”
Brown said he welcomed the new ordinance.
“Before, all we could do is scold people,” he said.
Roberts said the city needed to provide consequences for police animal abuse. He said the animals are loyal, highly trained and innocent.
“They didn’t choose to do this job,” he said. “We chose them for this job.”