Derry Borough’s K-9 program is back.
At Monday’s regular meeting, council voted 4-0 to resume the program and begin the process of acquiring a new police dog. Council president Grant Nicely, along with council members Jim Ritenour, Sara Cowan and Alison Camp, voted in support of the program. Vice president Al Checca was absent.
“It feels really good,” Derry Borough Police Chief Randy Glick said of the program’s return. “And having the support of (council) makes things so much smoother.”
Aside from council, about 20 residents attended Monday’s meeting — a much larger turnout than usual — to voice their support for the K-9 program. Additionally, Nicely said an anonymous donor planned to provide $6,000 in funding to help resume the program while a resident in attendance Monday said he was ready to donate to the program as soon as it was approved.
“I just want to thank everybody that came out tonight,” Ritenour said to community members, who responded with loud applause after council voted to resume the program. “You do not understand what this does for me and the other council members to realize people out there support the K-9 program.”
Added Mayor Alanna DeRito-Gaudiello: “Personally, I did not want it to end, I wanted it to continue. I want to do things right with Chief Glick and this new K-9. Whatever happened in the past, I want to leave it in the past.”
Glick said the male Malinois dog he hand-picked to be Derry’s next K-9 officer is currently in Holland. The dog, which is nine months old, goes by the name of Smokey, but that may change once he’s ready for police work.
He said the cost is about $4,500 to purchase the dog and $1,100 to fly the animal to America, along with initial training expenses of roughly $5,000. Once in the country, Glick and master K-9 trainer and former North Huntingdon Township officer William Sombo would pick up the dog in Washington, D.C.
The dog will then need a bonding period with Glick, his handler, for about 30 days. Two weeks of narcotics training will follow.
DeRito-Gaudiello pushed to resume the program at last week’s council work session, citing the importance of a K-9 as a community resource and a safeguard for children in the area.
Blade, the borough’s longtime K-9 officer who turned 13 late last month, worked his final shift in December. The Dutch shepherd had been an active member of the police department for a dozen years and spent his entire career alongside Glick, his handler.
Members of council previously announced in October that the borough’s K-9 program would be coming to an end, effective Dec. 31, 2019. Council vice president Al Checca said the borough would save about $6,000 with the move. Then-councilman David Jones noted at the time that council wasn’t ending the program; the decision was announced through a letter submitted by Glick.
Last week, Checca was the only council member who spoke out against the K-9 program, citing the yearly costs and his desire to save taxpayers money.
DeRito-Gaudiello previously noted that she and Glick came up with a solution to cut the annual cost of the K-9 program. If they cut Glick’s Tuesday schedule to four hours, from 8 a.m. to noon, that would reduce the borough’s K-9 costs to slightly more than $3,500 per year. Another officer, conversely, would work a noon-to-midnight shift under the proposed plan.
The borough’s police contract with Derry Area School District includes K-9 coverage. Aside from demonstrations, Glick said Blade had conducted walk-throughs within the district and performed a full sweep of DASD school buildings once per year. Glick said drug detection is the “most important” aspect of the K-9 program, especially with the region’s ongoing opioid epidemic and the rise of vaping devices being found at schools.
Glick noted that the borough’s K-9 program has never formally ended and that his police SUV remains retrofitted with items such as a kennel, leashes, harnesses and more.
Nicely said last week that “according to the old contract, the K-9 was part of it and the new contract had to be negotiated 90 days prior to the expiration, Dec. 31, of the (old contract) and the new contract was never negotiated, never approved and never signed.”
Aside from the initial grant funding to secure Blade and begin the borough’s K-9 program, Glick said virtually everything thereafter — from monetary donations, K-9 vehicle assistance, dog treats and more — was funded through the support of the community. He expects the same for the new police dog.
Solicitor Lee Demosky said borough code allows Derry Borough to accept monetary gifts toward the program and he recommended that any donations be put into a borough account designated specifically for the K-9 program.
“The K-9 program being reinstated is the first step toward the advancement and the growth of the department back to where it should be,” Nicely said.
In other business, council appointed Matthew Clever and George Hixon II to fill the vacancies left following the recent resignations of longtime president Chad Fabian and councilman David Jones. Council selected Clever by a unanimous vote, while Camp cast the lone dissenting vote for Hixon.
Clever, who has lived in the borough since 2012, has worked as a therapist for more than 14 years with a specialization in addiction treatment. Hixon has been employed as a paramedic for Mutual Aid Ambulance Service for the past decade and also serves as an EMT paramedic educator.
In all, the borough received six letters of interest for the council vacancies, a higher total compared to past openings. Nicely said council will work over the next month to form new borough committees related to public works, police, finance/budget and other departments.
Also discussed at Monday’s meeting:
- The annual Derry Area Revitalization Corporation (DARCee) Car Show is tentatively scheduled for Aug. 2 at Derry Community Park;
- DeRito-Gaudiello’s mayor’s report for January included 44 complaint calls, 14 traffic citations, one non-traffic citation and no parking tickets;
- DeRito-Gaudiello’s mayor’s report for December included 32 complaint calls, one traffic citation, two non-traffic citations and no parking tickets;
- Borough officials said they continue to advertise for a full-time police officer position. There is no stated timeframe on making a hire, they noted;
- The borough currently has two vacancies and an alternate vacancy for the zoning hearing board, along with a vacancy board chairman opening.
In other business, council approved:
- A contract with Sable Kennel for animal control services from January 2020 through December 2022 at a rate of $85 per month. Additional fees as part of the contract include roadkill pickup (between $75 and $100), small animals (between $30 and $50), emergency calls ($40), service on holidays ($60) and court hearing fees ($10);
- A bid for 650 tons of salt for the 2020-21 winter season through the state’s COSTARS cooperative purchasing program;
- TSI Titanium’s request for a subdivision and side lot addition along Mowry Way;
- For Demosky to draft an amendment related to curb-to-curb replacement after digging work within the borough;
- To purchase a mower deck for a 48-inch zero-turn idler arm assembly at a cost of $1,072;
- A resolution for signature cards with First Commonwealth Bank.