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South Valley Riverton Journal

High school civics project goes all the way to the Hill

Apr 06, 2018 10:33AM ● By Jet Burnham

Passionate about protecting K-9 officers, Emily Addison raised money to provide ballistic vests for South Salt Lake Police Department’s K-9 unit. (Photo courtesy Emily Addison)

Emily Addison’s sophomore civics class assignment is now a bill on the Hill.

Two years ago, Addison was attending Summit Academy High School and taking a civics and government class. She was assigned to create, change or enhance a local bill.

“It was one of those assignments that you could actually make change in society,” Addison said.

As a member of Draper Police Youth Explorers and a daughter of a Draper City police officer, she chose to focus her assignment on the safety of K-9 police dogs.

“It was something I had seen in the news quite a bit around that time and so I knew from the start that it was something I wanted to do it on,” Addison said. “These service dogs are a very big part of the law enforcement community and family. I find them to be quite honorable — their duty is it to protect and serve, not knowing the risks.”

Her bill, SB 0057 “Police Service Animal Amendments,” changes the penalty for knowingly killing a police K-9 from a third-degree felony to a second-degree felony. Addison said the increased penalty is commensurate with the cost to replace the dog, which can cost more than $40,000 to purchase and train. 

“It’s more appropriate to have a stiffer penalty when considering the dog is an officer of the law,” said Addison, who hopes to work with canines in a career with the FBI. She graduated last year at the age of 16 and is currently studying criminal law at Utah Valley University.

“Seeing police officers and the duty that they do, their role of protecting those who cannot protect themselves —  that’s always something that I wanted to be able to do,” she said.

While waiting for her bill to progress last fall, Addison raised $1,710 to purchase three ballistic-proof vests for South Salt Lake Police Department’s K-9 unit.

Addison’s civics teacher Callie Geisler said Addison was a very self-motivated student. 

“Emily is amazing,” she said. “She has always been incredibly focused and driven.”

Others have been impressed by Addison’s determination to make a difference, including Utah Senator Jani Iwamoto.

Geisler’s civic action project required students to contact community leaders with their ideas. Addison contacted Iwamoto, who began to look into the issue.

“I found there were a lot of things wrong with the code for all kinds of animals,” the senator said. “It was a very involved piece of legislation. 

When two unified police dogs, Dingo and Aldo, were killed in the line of duty in 2016 and 2017, their deaths hit close to home with the senator, who had served on the city council in the area the dogs had served. She met with officers and learned how valuable the dogs’ service is to the community with their ability to find criminals and save lives. She continued to build on the changes Addison suggested and the bill gained the backing of V. Lowry Snow in the House.

Because of the strong opinion on both sides of the issue, Iwamoto said it was a very difficult bill to pass. She is hoping for a ceremonial signing from the governor.

The senator invited Addison to attend the committee hearing for her bill so she could see the whole process.

“I think it’s so important for students to get involved,” the senator said.

Geisler said Addison is the only student to ever take their assignment all the way to the state level, but many students proposed their ideas at the local level. They asked city councils to preserve bike trails, add stoplights and stop signs at specific intersections, and fill troublesome potholes. 

“Once students realize they have a voice and it is heard, they are unstoppable,” said Geisler. She said about 20 percent of the students’ ideas were addressed by local governments. “It’s incredible what can come out of providing our youth with a basic framework of expectations and letting them fill in the rest.” 

Addison is grateful that Geisler assigned the project and pushed her out of her comfort zone.  

“It’s amazing that you have these teachers that really inspire you and push you to achieve greatness,” Addison said. “She’s helped me understand that at such a young age, I can have my voice heard and I can go out and achieve so many things.”