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Moving past prolonged K-9 debate

The New London City Council has made it clear on what size canine unit it wants in the city's police department - four dogs. Now the mayor should begin the process of implementing that decision and move on. This debate, layered with politics and personal vendettas, has taken up far too much of the council's and administration's time.

The disagreement over the canine unit was clearly defined. Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio sees no place for aggressive patrol dogs - the kind trained to attack and incapacitate a suspect - in an urban setting such as New London. In his opinion, use of these dogs sends the wrong message, particularly among the minority community, and are often the focus of costly lawsuits. He had trimmed the unit down to a single patrol dog, the minimum allowed under the police contract.

After multiple hearings on the issue in which it heard support for the canine unit and criticism of the mayor's policy, the council had a far different opinion. That ultimately resulted in the council passing the ordinance requiring a four-dog unit in the department.

In other communities this might just be another debate over different policy approaches, but not in New London. The mayor's critics alleged he was trying to dissolve the unit because it was popular with some of his past opponents and political enemies. Mayor Finizio felt his critics were inflaming passions rather than debating policy by trying to make him out to be a dog hater (he is a dog owner). Mayor Finizio also contended that by trying to dictate police department operations, councilors were infringing into his mayoral authority.

After vetoing the ordinance setting the canine unit at four, Mayor Finizio offered a reasonable compromise - a two-dog unit of a patrol dog and a scent/search dog. A small unit also makes sense given the city's fiscal problems. But the council rejected the offer and overrode his veto Monday on a 6-0 vote (with one councilor, Wade Hyslop, away on vacation).

It was a major rebuke. The mayor has strong veto power. It takes six votes to override; meaning he only had to find one vote Monday to sustain the veto, and still came up short. It's more stinging because the mayor is a Democrat and the party controls the council 6-1.

It appears Mayor Finizio is, wisely, ready to move on. He has an opinion from the city attorney in his pocket that contends the ordinance violates the charter by impinging on his executive authority. We disagree with that opinion, but the mayor could have sought to invoke it, leading to a council-mayor legal dispute and dragging this out.

Instead, after the vote, the mayor announced he would "honor the will of the City Council."

Now the mayor's critics need to give him and the police administration time to comply. This will require obtaining dogs, matching them with officers and providing training for both. It is up to the police administration, working with the mayor, to implement the program as they see fit. It is not the role of the council to micromanage such operations.

But the campaign season has begun, with election of a new City Council in November (the mayor is up for re-election in 2015). It would be no surprise if Republican council candidates are not soon complaining about the pace and nature of implementation. Such is politics.

On the good news front comes the discussion of creating a New London Police Foundation to raise funds to assist the department. Buying or supplementing the purchase of dogs for the department, or equipment for the unit, might prove a worthwhile early goal. Just keep the politics out of it.

Now on to a few other matters, such as rebuilding the ranks of the NLPD, development of the Fort Trumbull area and construction of a pedestrian bridge to tie it into the downtown, working on policies to help fill vacant store fronts, and laying the groundwork for the Coast Guard Museum. For a while, at least, leave the dogs be.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.


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