Washington earlier this month received a grant from Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger that city leaders hope will help them buy and train a new police dog next month.
The city was awarded the $10,000 grant Feb. 12 from the Ben Roethlisberger Foundation and is one of nine area organizations to receive the allotment designated immediately after the Super Bowl.
More than $40,000 was raised by the city through grants and community donations to help restart its K9 program. City officials hope to buy two dogs for the police department this year.
Washington police Chief Chris Luppino said the first dog’s primary use would be for drug detection and patrols. Luppino said three police officers are candidates to become handlers, and one of them is expected to enroll in the first training session scheduled to begin in late March if the program is approved by council.
That timeline is somewhat uncertain after the decision to purchase the dog and training session was delayed last week when council voted 3-2 to table the approval of a $8,250 down payment for training at Shallow Creek Kennels Inc. near Hermitage. Councilmen Ken Westcott, Joe Manning and Terry Faust voted to delay, much to the chagrin of Washington Mayor Brenda Davis.
Westcott said the three were caught off guard by the agenda item and expected they would vote on it next month after having more time to discuss the issue. Davis called it a “stall tactic” and blasted them for the delay.
“To move forward and bring such a positive thing for the community, only to delay the process or derail the process … is disappointing,” Davis said. “This is just a setback and we’ll bring it up for continued discussions to see if my colleagues are now going to support a canine unit.”
If the council delays the decision again, the next training session will be held over the summer.
Luppino is unsure what will happen during City Council’s March. 6 voting meeting, but is making preparations with the hopes the program will be approved. He spent several hours at Shallow Creek Kennels Wednesday securing a slot and requesting information on how the training process works.
“It’s been explained to me that the dog and handler pick each other,” Luppino said. “They test the handler with several different dogs.”
The city has been fundraising since August to purchase the police dog. Davis said the support from the community shows the residents are eager to have their own K9 program in Washington.
Davis said the cost to purchase a dog, complete training sessions and various other start-up expenses is about $15,000. Depending on when the first dog is trained, another dog could be purchased later this year.
“That’s why we’re very fortunate to have the support of the community and the Pittsburgh Steelers,” Davis said. “It makes establishing the K9 unit a lot easier with that support.”
Washington has not utilized a police dog since 1997, Luppino said.