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New London - Discussions on restructuring the city's police department took a first step Tuesday as the mayor, police chief and police department's union president answered questions posed by members of the City Council's Public Safety Committee.
"This is the beginning of dialogue we want to have to make public safety better in this city, not to criticize anyone," Public Safety Committee Chairman Wade Hyslop told the group.
Much of the discussion centered on the sale of a police dog to its handler, former Officer Roger Newton, who resigned in February amid allegations that he planted drugs on a suspect.
The sale of Kilo, a 5-year-old, drug-sniffing Labrador retriever, to Newton for $500 raised questions from city councilors Hyslop, John Maynard, Adam Sprecace and Marie Friess-McSparran.
Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio said purchasing Kilo was a "sticking point" for Newton to agree to resign from the department. He said union officials had said that Kilo was effectively "worthless" because he'd already had two handlers and could not be retrained, and that Newton would pay "a few hundred dollars for (the dog)."
Kilo was purchased in 2008 for $6,000 to $6,5000 with money raised from a "Bash at the Beach" fundraiser, according to Officer Todd Lynch, the department's union president and K9 trainer.
The annual fundraiser is run by former City Councilor Michael Buscetto III, who finished second to Finizio in November's mayoral election.
Finizio said Tuesday that he had not known the source of Kilo's funding until after the sale to Newton, and that the decision was not at all political.
"I saw it as a reasonable solution to a complicated and perhaps costly issue to the city," Finizio said.
But Lynch said Tuesday that the dog could have been retrained, and that it had actually had three handlers. He said Kilo was worth approximately $15,000, and had possibly five years of active service remaining.
Finizio said that while the dog is worth a significant amount, the loss "needs to be weighed against what's saved by the city by allowing this resignation." He referred to the costs of keeping Newton on paid administrative leave and paying for an internal investigation into his alleged misconduct.
It was "a potential resolution to a personnel matter everyone was in agreement with, which is rare," Finizio said.
Committee members also questioned the status of the retirement agreements with former police captains William Dittman and Michael Lacey. In three separate votes, most recently last month, the council has refused to fund the agreements, and the two veteran captains each have filed suit against the city.
Money to fund the agreements is in the fiscal year 2013 budget proposal that Finizio presented to the City Council last week.
At the time the deals were offered, Finizio said, he was told there were "funds available to facilitate the retirements" and that he agreed to the contracts "in good faith."
"The union doesn't object to great retirement deals; what we want is everyone eligible to get the same deals," Lynch told the committee. "It appears to the union that certain employees that were wanted out of the police department were given these deals."
Finizio disputed those facts, but would not comment further because of the pending litigation and pending grievances the union has filed with the state labor relations board against the city.