2015-07-09 / Around Town

Town Council Approves K9 Unit

MIDDLETOWN TOWN COUNCIL
By James Merolla


Middletown Councilor Rick Lombardi, a retired Newport police sergeant, meets Woody, who is the odds-on favorite to become the town's dog in a newly-approved K9 unit. The council voted unanimously to restore the K9 division following a detailed presentation by Officer David Guerriero, who is vying to be the dog's handler. (Photo by James Merolla) Middletown Councilor Rick Lombardi, a retired Newport police sergeant, meets Woody, who is the odds-on favorite to become the town's dog in a newly-approved K9 unit. The council voted unanimously to restore the K9 division following a detailed presentation by Officer David Guerriero, who is vying to be the dog's handler. (Photo by James Merolla) The Middletown Police Department is going to the dogs and they couldn’t be happier.

The Town Council voted 7-0 to allow police to reintroduce a new one-dog K9 unit, a once successful program that has been missing for years.

Police Officer David Guerriero made a 35-minute slide show presentation to the council on Monday, July 6. Guerriero explained how the dog, its initial training, the modified cruiser to transport him, and other essentials would be donated and that the total program would potentially cost the police department only $13,000 over the first two years in start-up costs and care for the dog.

“You will see this is a need,” said Guerriero, calling the specially trained dog an essential tool for community policing. The dog would not be trained for fighting, he added.

In 2013, there were 742 alarm calls and 207 field interviews in Middletown, more than half of which involved narcotics, he said. “I don’t want you to think of that mean dog that you know from an episode of ‘Cops,’ or a dog from the Middletown Police Department in the past. This dog will be a tool, not a weapon,” said Guerriero.

“We need to increase our efficiency and our officer safety when responding to all kinds of calls,” he said. While one dog can potentially do the work of about 10 officers in a search, Guerriero added, “We would never replace an officer with a dog on call.

The advantages of the acute scent receptors on the dog include efficiency in tracking weapons, narcotics and people, saving departmental man hours, increasing the police force’s visibility in the community, and other bonuses.

A person’s scent skills might cover a piece of paper in space, the officer said, while the dog could cover a football field. The department, he added, faced three situations in the past year when a dog would have proven to be invaluable for searching.

In 2013, he said, the department’s entire night fleet searched the Wappan Road area for a female who was reported to be suicidal. “We had to contact the State Police and were at the scene for almost two hours,” said Guerriero. “If we had our own unit, that call may have been settled within the first 10 or 15 minutes.”

Locating lost children and preventing car break-ins would also be expedited, he added. The K9 would be an advantage in mutual aid calls to Newport and Portsmouth, as well.

The dog would also be invaluable as a community presence, introduced to children and families as a positive representative of the police force, said Guerriero.

While large cities often pay $40,000 to $60,000 for start-up costs of such a unit, the officer said costs would be kept under $13,000 over the next two years.

The dog – possibly a purebred Labrador Retriever named Woody who was introduced to the crowd after the vote – would be donated free by Deborah Scott from Dogwood Labradors in North Kingstown. Scott has donated other dogs to other police departments in the state, Guerriero said.

A master trainer who has trained dogs all over the state, including three dogs in Cranston and the ACI, has offered his training services gratis.

“Mr. Steven Hauser is the master trainer who said he will train our dog with no more than a letter from the chief,” said Guerriero.

The Potter League, he added, will donate all maintenance items and pet-vet insurance would be minimal under a special program, the officer said. The special cruiser needed to transport the animal would also be adjusted free.

The biggest cost would be everyday expenses – food, grooming, veterinarian visits, leashes, and harnesses, he added.

"At one time, statewide, only three towns that I know of had canines. I’m happy to return canines to Middletown. I think they are extremely beneficial to law enforcement. I applaud this, I really do,” said Council President Robert J. Sylvia, a career police officer.

“There is no better feeling [than] when you go into a building search to have that dog go in ahead of you,” said council member Henry “Rick” Lombardi, a retired sergeant of the Newport Police Department. “I’m 100 percent behind this. I can’t see the negative side of this at all.”

One police K9 handler will be placed in that niche for “the life of that dog,” Guerriero said. He hopes to be entrusted with the responsibility.

In other news:

The council voted 7-0 to approve a 30 percent design plan for the busy intersection improvements slated at Aquidneck Avenue and Green End Avenue.

Town Engineer Warren Hall said the vote would allow the Rhode Island Department of Transportation to get to the 90 percent design phase and a step closer to reconstruction of the area.

The dangerous intersection has seen almost 90 accidents over the past five years. DOT plans to widen the driving area and install dedicated left-turn lanes for each of the four directions.

A plan to put roundabouts there was summarily rejected by residents years ago.

But the project is a long way away. The earliest possible start would be autumn of 2016.

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