Saying it would bolster the town’s efforts to rid New Canaan of drugs such as heroin, police on Wednesday proposed acquiring a second K-9 dog for the department.
A Labrador retriever’s work would include drug detection and tracking—much as the dog in place since last summer, Apollo the German shepherd, performs those duties and additionally is trained for patrol and apprehension—and also would boost the department’s community relations, K-9 Officer David Rivera told members of the Police Commission at their regular meeting.
“A lot of times when I do demonstrations, I restrict people petting him [Apollo]— that is just me being a good handler to the town,” Rivera said at the meeting, held at NCPD headquarters. “That being said, getting Labrador retriever, all the kids would be able to pet the lab and we would be in a really great position to provide this community with something that a lot of communities do not get, and that is interaction with police officers.”
He added: “I feel we have an opportunity in working in one of the best police departments in the state of Connecticut to have the best K-9 program. What would really help with combating the heroin epidemic and drugs we see coming into the town would be the implementation of another K-9.”
The police department’s K-9 program is paid for entirely out of a private fund that’s supported by donations. Right now, it stands at some $110,000, Rivera said. The new dog—training for the animal as well as for the officer that would manage it—would cost about $60,000. Wednesday’s meeting also included plaques of appreciation given to Pet Pantry on Grove Street and the New Canaan Veterinary Hospital on Vitti Street—both local businesses supply (dog food) and serve (physical upkeep) the NCPD’s K-9 dog, pro bono.
Allocating the money from the established fund would require support from the Board of Selectmen. Though the Police Commission deferred a formal vote to its May meeting, each member of the panel voiced support for the second K-9. The second K-9 officer would be Shane Gibson, known to many locals as the NCPD member who last May saved a choking victim’s life downtown, for which he received a Meritorious Police Duty Award.
“I see it as an additive here, as another tool in our belt, but also to help community relations,” Commissioner Paul Foley said. “I think the more we get either of you out of cars and on the streets interacting more with the public, it’s a positive—for the department, ourselves and all of us.”
A male chocolate lab that Rivera said would be “perfect” for New Canaan is now available, and could be trained in August if approvals are granted.
Commissioners asked about how the two dogs would work together (they’d be on alternating full-time shifts, increasing coverage), how many K-9 units nearby towns have (one in Darien and Wilton, two in Westport, two in Fairfield and five in Norwalk and Stamford), who supervises the K-9 officers (Lt. James George) and whether the fund’s $110,000 is in hand (no, $20,000 is from a single donor and contingent on securing a second dog, and about $3,000 is pledged to come in from local businesses).
Rivera described one recent instance where Apollo was dispatched to Norwalk on a motor vehicle stop that had yielded no evidence of narcotics until his arrival. Apollo indicated to Rivera that he picked up a scent of narcotics on the driver’s seat, prompting police to send for a female officer who patted down the suspect and turned up several bundles of heroin hidden on her person, Rivera said.
Asked for his thoughts on a proposed second police dog, and a Labrador retriever in particular, Police Chief Leon Krolikowski said the addition aligns perfectly with the department’s goals of reducing narcotics in town as well as increasing community involvement.
“This frankly is a dog-friendly town and people love animals and they’ve been generous” with the K-9 fund, Krolikowski said. “It’s great public relations. We’ve been very lucky that there have been no heroin overdoses in the two years we have been tracking it, and we’ve had Narcan for 18 months and haven’t used it yet, and I would like to make it so difficult for heroin to get into town that we don’t have it.”