Finn’s Law is a petition for legal change regarding the status of working animals, in particular service animals injured in the line of duty. Currently the legal position is that if a service animal is attacked, the attacker is charged under the Criminal Damage Act 1971 for effectively damaging the ‘property’ of the police or fire brigade, with a penalty no more severe than that of kicking in a door or smashing a window. This unique petition aims to bring the status of emergency service animals in line with the French position of a service animal being a sentient being, which is also mirrored in some American states. There seems to be real scope for change as interestingly, under current law attacking a guide dog presents a high penalty, as it is seen as representing ‘an extension of the person whom they are assisting’.
In the early hours of the fifth of October 2016 PC Dave Wardell (@DaveWardell on Twitter) was out on duty with his 8-year-old police dog, Finn. Whilst attending a botched robbery PC Wardell was stabbed in the hand, and in trying to save his handler Finn endured life-threatening stab wounds to the head and chest requiring urgent veterinary care. The incident and Finn’s recovery were blogged about firsthand at finnsstoryblog.wordpress.com. The case surrounding this is currently ongoing with a junior defendant, and as such some updates are sensitive and cannot be provided at this time.
A petition was set up in the days following the incident, aiming to ensure that police animals ‘be given protection that reflects their status if assaulted in the line of duty’. To date it has amassed a whopping 127,502 signatures, and was debated in Parliament in November last year.
PC Wardell kindly took some time out of his busy schedule to let me interview him about Finn’s Law and policing:
JSP: I note that the petition to give police dogs higher legal status has amassed 127,50 signatures, and was debated in parliament in November. What is next for the campaign?
DW: This now sits with the Government who are in the process of reviewing this. We have had one positive in that the Sentencing Council have for the first time recognised service animals in law and have made harm to them an aggravating factor.
JSP: Does the use of a police dog or horse intimidate people, and thus make them get more violent in retaliation?
DW: Police animals have a huge deterrent factor. If that means that during the course of a police dogs career that many thousands of people go home safely or many millions of pounds of property and assets are protected, surely that’s a good thing? Their presence tends to lower violence between people and towards Police officers.
JSP: Do you feel that normal pet animals should also receive higher legal status?
DW: As they do in France where they have been classed as beings for some time? Why not? We are said to be a nation of animal lovers. What’s not to like about that?
JSP: Do you feel the same way emotionally about Finn as you would a pet dog?
DW: Yep. Although the bond between my pet and me and between Finn and me where he has saved my life and I his is totally different. We are a double act. My pet doesn’t see me like that.
JSP: Do police dogs live in the family home like any other pet and enjoy typical family life?
DW: That usually depends on local rules. They have a kennel in the garden of the handler.
JSP: How much deployment does the average police dog get a week, and to what events?
DW: We cover all normal aspects of day to day policing. We are also the most effective search team police currently have and have had for well over 100 years. We exploit a dog’s 750,000 years of evolution through positive training to allow us to effectively search huge areas for suspects and missing persons – usually to great success. Finn and I would on average attend 10 jobs per shift. That can be reduced if we have to spend several hours on one search.
JSP: Had Finn ever been attacked prior to his stabbing?
DW: Most police dogs will be kicked or punched during their career. Finn is no different.
JSP: Are police dogs often injured in the line of duty?
DW: It’s not often they are as seriously injured as Finn. Finn isn’t the first dog in recent years to have been stabbed in this country. During the riots a Police Dog and his handler were attacked with a brick. Dogs have been shot, kicked, and punched. A dog recently received internal bruising from an attack in the UK.
JSP: Does PD Finn enjoy working?
DW: Finn loves nothing more than coming to work with me.
JSP: What can a police dog do that an officer cannot?
DW: Dogs see the world through scent. Finn has tracked the route of an offender four hours after the offence, found all his discarded loot and taken us to his hideout where we arrested him. No modern technology or robot can currently do that. They also never complain about work. They are always happy to be working and don’t bring their troubles to work with them.
JSP: Would you say attacks on police dogs and horses are rising?
DW: As [the attacks] have never been officially recorded there is no way of knowing for sure. But I’d say they are.
JSP: Are police dogs helpful on the front line to prevent further terror attacks?
DW: If you ask a police officer on the street what they would like to see more of between armed police, helicopters, Senior Officers or dogs, the answer will always be dogs! As for wether they help in the fight against terror, they already are and already do! In fact if budgets weren’t so tight they’d be doing more.
JSP: Do you support the idea of all police officers being issued with a body-worn camera?
DW: I wear one every day. I see no reason why I would not wear one as I have nothing to hide. Once faced with the evidence most complaints against police are dropped by the complainant once they are shown their behaviour.
Finn now, and Finn’s injuries. Photo credit @DaveWardell
It remains to be said that PD Finn did an excellent job, hanging on despite his severe injuries until the attacker could be apprehended. He has since returned to operational duty and even apprehended a suspect on his first day back at work. If you are interested in signing the petition, please find it here.