SJSO K9 officers get new protective vests from non-profit

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. — Eleven K9 officers with the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office will now be protected with ballistic vests thanks to a donation by a non-profit that has helped other K9 officers across Florida.


Like a human deputy, the K9 officer is outfitted with protective gear when patrolling.

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But this gear is the new Patrol SWAT vest donated by K9 United. Eleven K9 officers from St. Johns County Sherriff’s Office now have their custom-fitted vests.

New K9 protective vests

The founder of K9 United, Debbie Johnson said K9 officers need stealth protective vests to help decrease the yearly K9 death rate.

“Last year, there were 26 dogs that died in the line of duty. That’s across the United States. We had eleven so far this year who died in the line of duty. Five of those were due to gunfire,” Johnson said.

RELATED: St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office gets new K9

So far, two K9 officers died in the state of Florida.

“We have had one of our K9s drowned by a suspect. We also had K9s that have been hit or battered by a suspect,” Special Operations Lt. Nicole Burrell said.

If a K9 is killed in the line of duty in Florida, the suspect could be charged with a second-degree felony instead of a third-degree felony. This change was made after the “Fang Memorial Bill” was passed in 2019.

Johnson said she played a role in making sure that bill passed.

“I proposed legislation, drafted the bill, and now it’s a second-degree felony,” according to Johnson.

RELATED: Duval County Public Schools swears in new police chief & drug detection K9

St. Johns K9 officer Baron was killed in the line of duty in 2014. Johnson said that’s what started her organization and its mission in 2019.

“His death struck me. These officers and handlers are putting their lives on the line for us every day while I’m home safe on the couch.”

A K9 deputy handler told me this vest would help with the K9′s body temperature, stealth, and performance.

“Lighter, weighs just over one pound. It’s breathable, so she won’t overheat as fast,” K9 Deputy Melanie Merritt said.

A deputy told Action News the K9 would risk its life to save its partner.

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