The Williamsport Bureau of Police and city council members have been talking about the return of a K-9 unit to the force for more than a year. Through research, persistance, and--the biggest piece of the puzzle--funding, the city is preparing to welcome a new member to the team: one with fur.
Thanks to a donation of $43,000 by Ciocca Toyota of Wiliamsport, the program can move forward. At a press conference held Wednesday, Nov. 20, the Bureau and Ciocca Dealerships formally announced the donation and introduced Tacoma, the first K-9 on the force in years.
“This [donation] will pay for the whole program to start,” said Bonnie Katz, city councilwoman and owner of Le Chocolat on 420 Pine Street. Katz has held a seat on Williamsport City Council for two terms and has been a long-standing proponent of re-establishing a K-9 unit.
The idea of a K-9 program is well supported by city government, but without financial support, the program becomes a taxpayer issue. From the beginning, Katz said, “we wanted this to be donation driven, not taxpayer driven.”
While Katz and her committee worked with the city finance department to establish a special account to handle funds raised specifically for the K-9 unit, Police Chief Damon Hagan set about researching the process.
“We began to investigate training facilities in April, and we’ve identified a trainer,” said Chief Hagan. The cost estimated for the first year of having a dog on the force is between $13,000 - $15,000, including the dog and all training, outfitting the car, equipment, food, and vet bills.
Currently the department is vetting officers for selection, including looking at the home and family of potential handlers. The officer will also undergo K-9 training; he or she and the dog will become partners in every sense--the dog will both live and work with the officer.
Both Chief Hagan and Katz underscored the many benefits of having a K-9 unit on the force. “Dogs have incredible capabilities,” said Chief Hagan. “It can be trained in bike work. A dog’s presence creates officer safety, and its presence can calm people down.” Chief Hagan hopes to eventually have three dogs on the force: one for each shift. A bomb sniffing K-9 is useful at the courthouse, in schools, can search an area for gunpowder, and be on a trail within minutes.
“A K-9 is an ambassador to the city, and the county,” added Katz. “Our city has so many uses for dogs on the force, including the Little League World Series and Grand Slam Parade.”
Currently, the only Police Department in Lycoming County aside from the Pennsylvania State Police to have a K-9 unit is Hughesville. Bear, handled by Chief Rod Smith, is trained to do narcotics searches and search for people. Dani, a K-9 with the South Williamsport Police Department, retired in December of last year. Detective Devin Thompson, who was Dani’s handler and partner, hopes to bring a K-9 program back to South Williamsport at some point.
As for the Williamsport Police Department, they’re looking forward to welcoming a Belgian Malinois to the force sometime in early 2020, now that the initial funding is in place. In a gesture of deep and sincere gratitude for Ciocca Toyota, Katz said, “the dog’s name, of course, will be Tacoma.”