Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Memorial Services Take Shape; Legislators Push for Stiffer Jail Time

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Memorial Services Take Shape; Legislators Push for Stiffer Jail Time

Article excerpt

The stabbing death of a Pittsburgh police canine prompted two Pennsylvania state senators Friday to call for stiffer penalties for those accused of killing a law enforcement animal.

If convicted of a third-degree felony for slaying Rocco, 21-year- old John Rush, formerly of McKees Rocks, could face 3 1/2 to 7 years in prison under current state law.

Sens. Matt Smith, D-Mt. Lebanon, and Jim Ferlo, D-Highland Park, would like to see that crime rise to the level of a second-degree felony and carry a prison sentence of seven to 10 years. They plan to circulate a co-sponsorship memo for a bill that will be known as "Rocco's Law."

"Current Pa. law treats someone who taunts or teases a police dog in the same manner as someone who kills or mutilates a police dog," said Mr. Smith. "We've got to distinguish between that and what happened to Rocco, and that will be the thrust of this legislation."

The legislators disclosed their plans hours after Pittsburgh police announced that they will hold a service Friday commemorating the 8-year-old German shepherd that died after he was stabbed while trying to apprehend a fugitive who police said injured human officers.

"This particular incident hits home, especially when you have a dog that's a hero. In this case, he saved the life of a police officer," said Mr. Ferlo.

The bill is being co-sponsored by all of the state senators from Allegheny County, both Republican and Democrat, Mr. Smith said.

"Hopefully, the change, if we're successful, will act as a preventative measure so something like this tragedy never happens again, but if a tragedy like this does happen again, we have to bring the full weight of Pennsylvania law against any individual that acts like this," he said.

Mr. Ferlo said the death of Rocco was a frequent topic of conversation when people visited his Pittsburgh office Friday. The senator said he hopes to attend the dog's memorial service next week.

Friday morning, Pittsburgh police officers will gather at the bureau's canine training academy on Washington Boulevard in Highland Park to form a processional.

About 10 a.m., they will guide the dog's remains to Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum in Oakland for a service expected to last from about 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Among other ceremonies, the venue previously hosted the funeral service for Pittsburgh playwright August Wilson and the body of the first American soldier slain during World War I. …

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