A measure that toughens penalties for people who kill, maim or even threaten to harm a police dog, a police horse or any other animal used by law enforcement could be passed by the full Assembly in the coming weeks.

Under current Jersey law, injuring or killing a K-9 dog is a 4th degree crime, punishable by a maximum of 18 months in jail, but Assemblyman Nelson Albano is sponsoring legislation to make it a 3rd degree crime, with a penalties of up to 5 years in jail and 15 thousand dollars in fines.

"These K-9 dogs are really heroes," says Albano, "because they're out on the street everyday doing the same kind of job that a police officer is - putting their life on the line to protect the community…the legislation is needed because there have been many instances where individuals who have been arrested or tracked down by these K-9 units - these dogs have been harmed, they've been killed."

He points out "there's so much training involved in making a K-9 dog what it is today - also the amount of time and money - they're saying it's an average of 60 to 75 thousand dollars to purchase the K-9 dog, the training and everything else that goes along with it."

Albano adds police dogs are special because "this is a job a normal officer can't perform - we're talking about a K-9 dog that can track down a rapist, a burglar - even a murderer…this is something that gives the police an extra advantage in solving crimes or catching individuals."

The bill has been passed by the Assembly Agriculture Committee, and now heads to the full Lower House for consideration.