City attorney says K-9 ordinance reaches beyond council authority

New London - The city attorney has advised the City Council that a proposed ordinance requiring the police department to maintain a four-dog K-9 unit violates the city's charter.

Attorney Jeffrey T. Londregan said in a memo sent to the council on Thursday that the proposed ordinance, which the council is set to discuss Monday, would be in "direct violation" of Sections 40 and 37 of the City Charter.

But City Council President Michael Passero, who also is an attorney, strongly disagreed with Londregan's interpretation of the charter, saying the "proposed ordinance falls squarely within the legislative authority of Council as demonstrated in Sections 21 and 43."

"The community is outraged he (the mayor) is unilaterally dismantling the program,'' he said. "So that's when the councils steps in as a representative of the citizens and tells the mayor, there will (be) a K-9 unit."

Londregan wrote that the proposed ordinance is an attempt to dictate how the police department operates and what assets it must maintain.

Under the charter, the mayor, who is the chief executive of the city, controls the police department. The council cannot "dictate, or attempt to dictate," the way the mayor manages the city and its staff, Londregan wrote.

The council has proposed an ordinance mandating a minimum of four K-9 units in the police department, each comprising a dog and its handler. The cost of maintaining the units would be included in the department's annual budget.

"As the proposed K-9 Patrol Division ordinance is an attempt to give an order to the Police Department to maintain certain services and patrols divisions, it is in direct conflict with the provisions of the City Charter,'' Londregan wrote.

But Passero said he is confident the council's proposal is permitted under the charter.

"We organize departments. We could reorganize any department. That's our legislative prerogative,'' he said.

In an email response to Londregan's memo, Passero wrote that he anticipated Londregan's opinion and drafted the ordinance so as to not interfere in the "administration" of the police department.

"The ordinance does not dictate how the Chief/Mayor manage or direct the K-9 unit,'' he wrote. " The legislation only requires that the police department include a K-9 unit within certain minimum parameters. This is a policy issue that rests within the legislative power vested with the Council. The Mayor, in turn, will be obligated to exercise his executive authority to carry out the mandate."

The council's Public Safety Committee will meet at 6 p.m. Monday, followed by the City Council at 7 p.m.

In June, Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio eliminated two K-9 positions in the department. Buck, a German shepherd, was retired for medical reasons and Bessie, a bloodhound, was scheduled to be donated to another department, leaving one police dog in the department, as required by the police union contract. Officer Todd Lynch, the police union president, is the only officer paired with a K-9. His dog is Jasper, a German shepherd.

Finizio has said he does not support an urban police department using dogs that bite and intimidate.

"I fully support a K-9 program that employs the use of detection and tracking dogs, such as our bloodhound Bessie," Finizio said. "I reiterate that as a matter of policy, I do not support the use of biting/patrol dogs in city law enforcement."

After an outcry from some members of the department and the public, Finizio reinstated Bessie.

Last month, the council passed a non-binding resolution supporting a K-9 unit in the police department with at least four dogs. It then proposed the ordinance, which in effect would require the department to have a K-9 unit with at least four dogs.

k.edgecomb@theday.com

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