BRUNSWICK — The Police Department hopes to add its first canine officer and police dog in 15 years if a grant application to a Massachusetts-based foundation is successful.
The Town Council on May 21 unanimously approved the application for a $25,000 grant, following a presentation from Cmdr. Thomas Garrepy.
Also Monday, councilors confirmed by a vote of 8-1 the appointment of Matt Panfil as the new director of planning and development, accepted Beacon Drive as a town road and approved grant recommendations from the Nathaniel Davis Fund Committee.
Councilor Stephen Walker voted against appointing Panfil due to some concerns with Panfil’s resume, saying he did not see “very many positions that were held for more than two years,” and no past positions that involved supervising staff, coastal issues, or “New England issues.”
Walker also criticized how the position was advertised, noting there were only 10 applicants and that it was not posted on some regional listservs until shortly before the application deadline.
“I don’t think we got a very thorough sampling of what was out there, and I would recommend that we re-open at this point, because we only gave New England planning folks nine days to reply,” he said.
Police will apply for the K9 Unit Establishment Grant from the nonprofit Stanton Foundation of Cambridge, Massachusetts.
If Brunswick receives the grant, it will be eligible for an additional $1,000 per week for up to 14 weeks to cover overtime costs while the K-9 officer is away at training, and a $4,000 stipend once the dog has completed specialty training.
To be eligible for the award, a department must not have had an active K-9 unit for at least five years.
Ahead of Garrepy’s presentation, Town Manager John Eldridge said establishing a new K-9 unit was an item the department originally requested as part of its operating budget for fiscal year 2019.
“I said ‘Maybe not this year. Go find a grant,’ and they did,” Eldridge said.
According to Gareppy , the Police Department has not had a K-9 unit since 2003, when Brunswick’s former K-9 officer retired.
Now, Gareppy said the department is “interested in re-introducing a dog” for a variety of reasons, including missing person investigations, alarm calls, and especially cracking down on drugs, which will include doing periodic locker searches at local schools.
“Opiate addiction is climbing to a scale that we can’t even comprehend, and working with our (Maine Drug Enforcement Agency) agent, this K-9 team will prove very beneficial for the department if it’s approved,” he said.
Without a its own K-9 unit, the department often has to wait at least 45 minutes for a specially trained officer and dog to arrive from another town.
“Having an officer on staff with a dog will make it much more timely for us to get the resources we need,” he said.
On Tuesday, Gareppy said the department will purchase a Belgian Malinois, which, he said, tends to be “far more assertive” than the German shepherd and have fewer health issues.
Gareppy said the cost estimate is almost $21,800, with a reserve fund of about $3,300 for future use.
Purchasing the dog will cost approximately $7,000, upgrading a police cruiser will cost $6,000, and veterinary care for three years will cost $2,400. Other costs such as food, training, insurance, and miscellaneous equipment were also accounted for over a three-year period.
Gareppy added his “long-term goal” for the K-9 program is to use the department’s drug asset forfeiture money to fund the effort, and to eventually apply for the Stanton Foundation’s “Second Dog” program, which provides another $25,000 grant to departments looking to add a second dog.
According to Gareppy, Brunswick police take in between $4,000 and $7,000 per year in asset forfeitures, which is put into a dedicated account the department uses to purchase items necessary for fighting drug-related crimes.
“What I foresee in a couple years is to come back before you folks again and apply for a second dog, maybe a drug dog specifically,” he said.
Councilors expressed support for the idea, but also had questions.
Councilor James Mason asked Gareppy what types of drugs a police canine is able to sniff out. Gareppy said mostly narcotics, such as opiates, other pills, and powders such as crack cocaine.
Police dogs can also detect marijuana, but Gareppy said because marijuana is legal in Maine now, dogs are typically not trained to detect it anymore.
In response to a question from Walker, Gareppy outlined the different authorizations the department will need in order to deploy the dog.
For locker searches at schools, he said, the department would get permission from the administration. For traffic stops, “nine times out of 10” officers would obtain a search warrant, and for vacant buildings, open doors or alarm calls the dog would be able to enter without a warrant.
An occupied building or residence, he said, would require a warrant.
“If we’re going to go in, the dog is no different than we are,” he said.
Gareppy also said officers would not use the dog to intimidate people, and dedicating an officer to K-9 duty would not create a vacancy elsewhere.
Councilor Jane Millett noted the Police Department now has five police officer positions to fill, and asked how K-9 training would affect the force.
“I’m hoping that in this current situation we’re in with the hiring process we’re going to have a couple people up to speed here pretty quick,” Gareppy said. “We’ve got some qualified candidates in the process right now, including a couple of fully certified academy graduates.”
The Brunswick Police Department will get its first police dog in 15 years if a grant application to a Massachusetts-based foundation is successful. The Town Council gave unanimous approval to the department’s application on May 21.