New London police move closer to restoring K-9 program

Sgt. Matt Galante Jr. right, of the New London Police Department assists two new patrol officers, Ryan Soccio, left, and Joseph Kondash  as they fill out employment paperwork on Sept. 22, 2015. (Tim Martin/The Day)
Sgt. Matt Galante Jr. right, of the New London Police Department assists two new patrol officers, Ryan Soccio, left, and Joseph Kondash as they fill out employment paperwork on Sept. 22, 2015. (Tim Martin/The Day)

New London — The city police department this month moved two steps closer to re-establishing its canine program after it secured funds to purchase a used K-9 vehicle and named the two officers who will become handlers.

According to Acting Police Chief Peter Reichard, officers Chris Bunkley and Joe Kondash were chosen from a pool of about 10 to become the department’s newest handlers.

He said a team of three K-9-certified officers and the city’s command staff interviewed the applicants and ranked them on a scale. Based on the results of that process, Reichard selected Bunkley and Kondash.

According to archives of The Day, Bunkley joined the department in 2000 while Kondash signed on in 2015.

The City Council additionally agreed on Tuesday to allow police to move $3,000 from the maintenance and repair budget line to the replacement vehicle line. According to the council’s agenda, police will use the $3,000 to purchase a used K-9 cruiser from Soli’s Garage in West Haven.

Now all that remains is obtaining funding for the dogs, which is no small feat. According to the city police union, the canines, slated to be German shepherds, will cost about $28,000 total. It’s money the department did not include in its budget for the current fiscal year.

The union said both dogs will be fully trained in both patrol and narcotics upon their purchase. That means they’ll be able not only to sniff out drugs, but also to search buildings, recover evidence, track and detain suspects and find missing people.

Those wishing to donate to the program can send checks payable to the New London Police Union K-9 Fund to P.O. Box 135, New London, CT, 06320.

Neither Bunkley nor Kondash has worked with K-9s before, Reichard said, so they’ll need to attend training in order to catch up.

“They’re going to get a dog who’s at a level where the dog will know what to do” in various situations, Reichard said. “The officers have got to learn what to do with the dog.”

The process to rebuild the city’s canine program has been arduous.

It was back in 2013 that the council unanimously passed an ordinance requiring the department to main four K-9 teams. But since the deaths of K-9s Buck and Jasper, who died in 2014 and 2016, respectively, the department has had just one K-9 — Bessie, a tracking bloodhound.

The City Council in June 2015 approved a transfer of $30,000 to establish two additional K-9 units, but that money never came through.

Retired police Chief Margaret Ackley additionally threw her weight behind the idea of bringing on more K-9s, but her wishes never materialized.

Reichard didn’t venture a guess as to when the department’s incoming dogs will be operational, but the union said it hopes the teams are functioning by early 2018.

“These dogs will be a great asset to the agency,” the union said.

l.boyle@theday.com

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