Darien Considers Purchasing Another Police Dog
The new K-9 officer would replace the German shepherd Rolf who died four months ago.
Much of the discussion about a proposed $7.3 million police department budget for the next fiscal year at Thursday night’s Darien Police Committee meeting revolved around the expenditure of $12,000 to purchase a new police dog.
“Quanto, our other K-9, is getting up there in age,” noted City Administrator Bryon Vana. “This might be his last year that he will be of police service.”
Vana said if that is the case, the purchase of the new police dog will allow the department to have a trained canine available to fill that role.
Committee members asked questions of Vana and Police Chief Ernest Brown about the other costs associated with maintaining a K-9 unit, including vehicle costs, officer overtime and veterinarian bills.
“Can I ask a question on the vet bills? Do we actually spend $4,000 [per year]?” Alderman Sylvia McIvor, the committee chair, asked. “I have three dogs and I don’t spend $4,000.”
Vana said $4,000 might be on the high side, but veterinarian bills tend to increase as a dog ages. Quanto has been in service with the department for more than eight years.
“Normal bills are around $2,000,” Vana said. “I think the dogs both needed some minor surgeries this [budget] year.”
“How much overtime do we incur because we have a dog?” Alderman John Poteraske asked.
“We haven’t been able to break that out yet,” Brown responded. “We’re working on a protocol to break that out in the future.”
There is a fixed overtime cost of $11,250 in the budget for the officer who works with the K-9. Poteraske said adding that cost to the purchase price of the dog and the veterinarian bills would bring the actual cost of adding a new police dog to $27,000.
The canine officers potentially can create revenue for the department to offset their costs.
“When we did the math, over the period that we’ve had the two K-9s, they basically more or less paid for themselves,” McIvor said.
K-9 Rolf was involved in a vehicle search that resulted in a drug cash seizure that netted the police department $119,000.
“I, personally, support the K-9,” McIvor said. “We also have all the equipment that the K-9 was utilizing … so we wouldn’t have to purchase that.”
“I think there’s a lot of benefit to having a K-9,” Brown said.
He said the department might be able to set up “trafficking interdiction protocols” with some motels and hotels -- even those outside Darien -- to investigate suspicious customers.
One reason the purchase of a new police dog occupied so much time in the budget discussion was that there are not a lot of other budget components the city can easily cut. Salaries and benefits make up more than 83 percent of the department budget.
“This budget maintains the current staffing level that we’ve had, minus the one deputy chief position,” Vana noted.
Deputy Police Chief David Skala retired in December after 30 years with the department.
The $4.3 million in the budget for salaries includes 34 union salaries for 27 patrol officers and seven sergeants, as well as two administrative positions (chief and deputy chief). It also includes approximately $500,000 in overtime pay.
“The overtime in the police department budget is always a bit difficult to predict,” Vana said. “We’ll never, ever hit that right on the money. We stayed with a number that I think is a bit conservative.”
Overall, the proposed budget is more than $200,000 less than the budget for the current fiscal year. Most of that is due to a decrease in capital equipment expenditures related to the purchase of new police vehicles this year.
Use of Tasers reviewed
While the proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins May 1 does not include funds for the purchase of more new vehicles, it does include $16,800 to replace 10 Taser units.
“In terms of the need for Tasers, less lethal force pays a tremendous dividend to the city because it prevents officers from taking the use of force to that next level up,” said Brown, referring to the use of potentially lethal force.
Deputy Police Chief John Cooper said nearly all of the department’s current Tasers have expired warranties.
“When they break, it’s really expensive to repair,” Cooper said. “Sometimes, they’ll tell us they can’t repair them.”
Cooper said the new Tasers would come with four-year warranties.
“As with most technology, there’s a certain level of planned obsolescence,” Brown said. “The Tasers that we got in 2005 are not nearly as technologically sound as the Tasers we’d get this year.”
The committee also reviewed the police department’s policy on the use of Tasers.
“It’s fairly exhaustive,” Brown said. “It clarifies when a Taser should be used, how it should be used. We clearly have a training protocol already in place, to make sure the officers are trained in the use of the Taser.”
Since the Tasers were purchased in 2005, officers have only used them on 13 occasions, including once on a dog.
“Last year we did not employ it on anybody,” Cooper noted. “And that’s a good thing.”
The Police Committee does not vote on the department budget. The full City Council will vote on the entire municipal budget in the next two months.