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New London - In a unanimous vote Monday night, the City Council overrode a mayoral veto, paving the way for the police department to have four active K-9 units.
With Councilor Wade Hyslop away on vacation, the remaining six councilors were needed to vote in favor of the override, which keeps in place an ordinance that makes it mandatory for the department to maintain four police dogs. Six out of seven councilors are needed to override a mayoral veto.
Last week, Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio, who had reduced the K-9 units from three to one, vetoed the council's ordinance but promised to work with the police union to create a two-dog, K-9 unit as part of collective bargaining negotiations. The current police contract requires one police dog.
Monday's vote was taken during the council's "consent agenda," which means there was no discussion during the meeting.
After the vote, Finizio issued the following statement:
"We will work with the Law Director's office, the Finance Department, and the Police Administration to honor the will of the City Council. I also assure all New Londoners that I will insist upon the highest standards in our K-9 unit to protect and preserve the civil rights of all who live in our City."
Last month, the council, fielding outrage from residents over the dismantling of the K-9 unit, passed a non-binding resolution recommending the department have four K-9 units. The ordinance was approved unanimously Aug. 5, despite an opinion from the city attorney that said the ordinance violated the city charter.
The city had three working K-9s up until last spring, when Buck was retired for health reasons and Bessie was pulled off duty because her handler took another job. Finizio, who does not believe patrol dogs should be used as a crime-fighting measure, citing past complaints from bite victims, kept only one dog, Jasper, a German shepherd whose handler is Officer Todd Lynch. Lynch is president of the police union.
"I'm ecstatic,'' Lynch said Monday following the vote. "I certainly hope the will of the people and the council is followed by the mayor. ... It's sad that what the community wanted had to be overridden in a mayoral veto."
Lynch, who said he was ordered into work after concluding union business in City Hall earlier in the day, did not attend the meeting. He said officers were also given a memorandum at roll call that said no personnel on duty were allowed to attend the council meeting.
He said Buck has been cleared by a veterinarian and can return to work immediately and Bessie may be able to come back soon, depending how long she will need to get back in shape after being in a kennel for nearly three months.
Before the vote, four people spoke to the council urging members to overturn the veto.
"I hope from the bottom of my heart the veto is overturned tonight,'' resident Karen Paul said after telling the council that since 2001, 500 Americans have been killed by Tasers and there has not been one death from a police dog bite.
Last week the mayor said Bessie, a tracking bloodhound that has been housed at kennel in Norwich since June, can return to work when she is assigned to a new handler.
Finizio has argued that the ordinance was an attempt to micromanage the police department. But in the spirit of moving beyond the issues, Finizio said he would work with the union through contract negotiations to have two dogs in the department in the spirit of reaching "a reasonable compromise to allow our city to move beyond this debate."