Bill Would Help Protect Animal Control Officers

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COLUMBIA - The Missouri House of Representatives is discussing a bill that would strengthen the protection of animal control officers.

Rep. Sheila Solon, R-Blue Springs, introduced House Bill 1577, which adds animal control officers to the list of positions that can be considered law enforcement if assaulted. Solon said animal control officers face situations as dangerous as police officers.

"Many times, they'll work alongside police officers and enter crime scenes to restrain animals or they deal with emotionally charged domestic situations," Solon said. 

The issue came to Solon's attention when she was approached by animal control officer from Blue Springs. She then did a ride along with police officers and saw the work animal control officers do.

"Sometimes they're not viewed the same as police officers, they can be challenged more directly," Solon said. "All that they normally have is pepper spray, a baton, or a control device called a bite stick."

Columbia animal control supervisor Molly Aust said she and her officers don't have much knowledge of situations when they attend to a call.

"We're not always familiar with what we're getting into when we get out there," Aust said. "We get limited information on the phone. Sometimes we get caught in the middle of neighborhood battles or disputes where one neighbor is mad at another neighbor and they will actually get confrontational with an officer. We never know from day to day or hour to hour what kind of a call that we may get next." 

Aust said she knows officers have been assaulted before, but they were not excluded when charges were brought against those who assaulted them.

"We've had officers that have been assaulted by people before," Aust said. "I don't feel like we were ever excluded from it because when we have had cases where a police officer or sheriff's deputy needed to files charges against someone who assaulted an animal control officer, it was always sent to the prosecutor's office as just that." 

If the bill passes, it would go into effect on Aug. 28, 2014.

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