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Dogs actively employed in the U.S. with law enforcement or related agencies face the same risks as their human handlers. There are an estimated 30,000 law enforcement K9s throughout the United States and the number of shooting incidents, violent crimes and terrorist attacks continues to rise.
It’s clear why K9s are frequently used by law enforcement agents – dogs are loyal, fierce and protective. All in all – they perform an outstanding job protecting their communities and are easy to train. But the responsibility of minimizing risks and threats to their wellbeing and lives falls on humans. And this is where body armor comes in.
More and more body armor manufacturers are rolling out designs of vests to keep terror-sniffing police dogs safe. In the wake of the death of French police dog Diesel, who died during a police raid in Paris following the Friday 13th terror attacks, it is clear there is a real need for better K9 protective equipment. Diesel was initially sent to the Paris apartment after gun fire died down.
Newer K9 body armor designs consist of two parts, protecting both the neck and chest of the dog and additional armor is also available for the legs and head if required.
Because the role of the assault dog is essential in the type of work that law enforcement agents do, it is also imperative that the animals are adequately protected. The dog’s welfare is of paramount importance and body armor ensures 80% percent protection, covering all the vital organs, except the head. This type of equipment comes in handy for trained firearms dogs on patrol when they are called to an incident where guns are involved.
There are different types of body armour for tactical firearms support dogs available. Choosing this equipment is a balancing act between making sure they are safe, while ensuring they're still able to do their job effectively.
These measures come after the passing of the Service Animals (Offences) Bill, which aims to broaden sentencing powers when a service animal is injured. "Finn's law" was introduced after police dog Finn needed surgery after being stabbed with a 10-inch knife while chasing a suspect in October 2016.
It culminated in a Parliamentary debate leading to a revision in the Sentencing Council guidelines for dealing with animal attacks.
The changes mean offenders can get stiffer sentences for attacking police dogs or horses, but campaigners want the animals to be given the same status as injured officers.
At the time, Finn's injuries were not considered "serious enough" to warrant a separate penalty for the attacker in court.
The suspect was convicted of actual bodily harm for the injuries to PC Wardell and criminal damage for the knife injuries to Finn.
Following this incident, more and more police departments have started fitting K9s with new vests, made from woven metal mesh, designed to protect the force's firearms support dogs. Statistics showed that police dogs were more at risk from being stabbed than being shot. Manufacturers have been using recycled police uniforms to test and develop different styles of jackets before deciding on the metal mesh design.
Previous styles of body armor have been impractical for the dogs to wear even though they provided protection. The vests were uncomfortable because of inflexibility, insulation and weight. The best defense a dog has is its speed and maneuverability. It makes sense to continue investing in research and development because acquiring and training new dogs costs a small fortune and law enforcement agents want to keep each dog as long as possible.