Back from leave, Police Chief Margaret Ackley remains silent on dog plan
New London — Police Chief Margaret Ackley, who made her first public appearance Monday night since coming back from 10 months of administrative leave, remained silent when City Council members raised questions about her request for two additional police dogs.
Despite having questions about the choice of a giant schnauzer as a patrol dog, the council approved a transfer of funds to establish the additional K-9 units.
Council member Michael Passero said he appreciated the effort to create a viable K-9 program but added, “I’ve been getting a lot of pushback on the giant schnauzer issue.”
Passero said he was willing to listen to the debate on the issue. But after a few awkward moments of silence, it became clear Ackley did not intend to address the council. She in fact never left her seat in the back row of council chambers or addressed the council in any way. Ackley did not acknowledge individual councilors when they welcomed her back.
The additional dogs would boost the number of K-9 teams from two to four and comply with an ordinance passed by the last council two years ago. Ackley, in a memo to the council last week, said she intends to purchase a narcotics detection dog and a giant schnauzer for patrol. Her plan calls for $30,000 be transferred from the department's retirement payout account into the training budget — $20,000 for the purchase of two dogs and $10,000 for associated training equipment.
Councilor Erica Richardson said she had done her own homework on the giant schnauzer, calling it a working dog with a dominant temperament but also a “gentle temperament.”
“People with concerns about biting dogs are not really going to get that out of this dog, but it is a good dog to have in the station,” Richardson said.
Passero added, "It's more of an issue of whether a giant schnauzer is accepted in this country as a good police dog," Passero said.
The councilors voted unanimously in favor, with council member Anthony Nolan, a New London police officer, abstaining from the vote. Giant schnauzers are hypoallergenic, and it was previously mentioned by Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio that Nolan had tried out as a dog handler but was allergic to dogs.
"I'm not an expert on dogs by any stretch of the imagination, so I certainly want to have those who are experts make decisions regarding the canines who are purchased for this job. That's well beyond my pay grade," council member Martin Olsen said.
“My only opposition to the dog ordinance was the fact that if they were biting dogs, I would not necessarily want to see those types of dogs brought into our police department,” said Council President Wade Hyslop. “I would trust the decision of those who are more knowledgeable."
At Finizio’s request, Risk Manager Paul Gills issued a memo Monday concerning liability exposure that showed the police department accounted for 23 percent of the city’s liability claims, 67 percent of the costs, over the past five years. The department incurred 94 claims at an estimated cost of more than $6 million in legal defenses, claim expenses and settlements, according to Gills.
There were two claims involving police dogs biting people during that time that cost the city $63,311, according to Gills' report.
Gills concluded that police dogs have not been a major driver of law enforcement liability claims and had little impact on the city’s insurance premium. Expansion of the program, Gills said, “will require the department to fully train and budget for all appropriate safeguards to reduce the city's exposure to liability.”
It is unclear when the department might purchase the dogs. Ackley had previously informed the council in a memo that she expected the department to be $550,000 under budget, making the transfer request “very reasonable.”
Finance Director Jeff Smith said any police department surplus may well be offset by a drop of an estimated $500,000 in revenues. He asked the chief to hold off on any expenditure until late August or September.
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