Council approves Cormier motions for K-9, Harley

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BELFAST – City Council approved two proposals by Belfast Police Chief Robert Cormier, one unanimously and the other by a narrow 3-2 vote, during its August 2 session.

The motion, approved unanimously, was Cormier’s proposal that the department reintroduce the department’s K-9 program while the other institute a motorcycle inspection program.

Cormier said when he became police chief he was told the department previously had a K-9 program and was asked to look into a possible reintroduction of that program. He said he spoke to a number of growers and handlers in preparation for submitting a proposal to the council. One of the vendors he spoke to is Katalyst Kennels in Litchfield, Conn. Cormier said one of the dogs the kennel has available is a 1-year-old black Lab named Spud. The cost of acquiring the dog would be $9,000.

Cormier said that speaking to local police authorities, he felt there was an urgent need for a dog with search and rescue capabilities. He said Spud would come fully trained and could be used not only for search and rescue but also for related item searches and narcotics tracking.

One of the important aspects of bringing a dog into the department would be getting a dog that could be part of the community and would be able to go to local schools and interact with the public, Cormier said. He added that the trainer told him the dog was trained to be good with children and local residents.

Cormier said that if the council approves purchase of the K-9, the detachment could be delivered in four to five weeks. He said that the future handler’s training would begin in September.

“I really think this would be a great solution for the department,” Cormier said, adding that he felt it would help with morale, officer retention and recruitment.

Cormier said the department already has a vehicle equipped to deploy K-9s, as well as the equipment needed for such a program.

“We can really take off,” he said.

Councilors expressed support for the program, with councilor Paul Dean saying that while he was concerned when he first read the proposal, $9,000 for a fully trained police dog sounded like a reasonable price. He noted that the dog would be an important ambassador for the department.

Council members Brenda Bonneville and Mike Hurley also expressed support for the idea during discussions of the proposal. Ultimately, the council voted 5-0 to authorize the reinstatement of the K-9 program.

The motorcycle control program met with more opposition, particularly from council members Bonneville and Hurley.

The proposal put forward by Cormier would have the department rent a Harley Davidson motorcycle outfitted for police work at a cost of $4,410 per year. Cormier said the bike would be dedicated to road safety initiatives and traffic enforcement-related activities. Cormier said the bike could also be used for other security situations, such as parades and other similar events.

Cormier said he felt adding a motorcycle to the department could also enhance the department’s recruitment and retention initiatives and would represent another new and exciting development for the department.

Hurley said his main concern is the number of motorcycle accidents in general. He said motorcycles are generally unsafe vehicles. He also referenced an earlier time when the city was addressing noise pollution from motorcycles, saying there are many people in the city who don’t like motorcycles. Hurley said he also wanted to know how adding a motorcycle would affect the city’s insurance rates.

Bonneville said she was also not a supporter of the idea of ​​adding a motorcycle to the department. Addressing a potential problem with the motorcycle’s noise, she said she did not feel the motorcycle program was a friendly program like the previous discussion of reintroducing the K-9 program.

Councilor Harkness said he was still making up his mind on the issue, adding that noise was a concern for him too. He asked Cormier if it was possible to put restrictions on when a police motorcycle could be used.

Cormier said the plan is to use the motorcycle primarily for traffic monitoring during the day and not use the vehicle after 8 or 9 p.m

Mayor Eric Sanders said he views the issue as one of the tools at the department’s disposal. He said one of the concerns he has is possible disasters or crises in the city, like those that have been occurring in other communities across the country. He said motorcycles have the ability to go places a car might not. He said that for that reason alone, a motorcycle can be extremely valuable.

In response to councilors’ concerns about safety and noise, Dean said hazard and police agencies go hand-in-hand. Dean also said that the factory exhaust on a Harley Davidson is quiet.

As the council continued to debate the issue, City Manager Erin Herbig said emergency management positions are some of the vacancies the city is struggling to fill. She said the city is offering $20,000 in signup bonuses and can’t get anyone for those jobs. She said one of the things that impressed her was when the Chief brought up the possibility of a motorcycle officer, five officers expressed interest in being assigned the role. She focused on the fact that these types of programs could help attract more officers to the department.

Councilwoman Mary Mortier said that while she was concerned about the noise, she saw the benefit of a motorcycle officer, particularly in accident-related situations, as motorcycles could get into an area a squad car couldn’t. Ultimately, Dean, Mortier, and Harkness voted in favor of the proposal, while Bonneville and Hurley opposed the measure.

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