Selectman wants town to add K-9 unit

Selectman says dogs would aid growing drug problem

By Patrick Cronin

Hampton Union, Friday, July 16, 2010

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

HAMPTON -- While the Police Department is struggling keep its Mounted Patrol Unit — with business owners conducting fund-raisers to foot the bill — one selectman wants the town to look into bringing back the K-9 unit.

"At least they work 12 months out of the year," said Selectman Jerry Znoj.

Police Chief Jamie Sullivan said if it was the selectmen's desire he would bring a proposal before them during the review of the department's proposed budget for 2011.

The discussion arose during a Police Department update at this week's selectmen's meeting that started with an overview of the July 4 weekend and later turned into a discussion of whether there really is a drug problem at Hampton Beach.

Znoj said he contacted the chief about the possibility of having a K-9 unit several months ago.

"I spoke with a police chief from the Boston area and he had them and was very happy with the program," Znoj said. "They were used not only in cruisers but also drug efforts. They were used to sniff out the drugs."

Sullivan said he was hesitant to bring forward a proposal for a new unit, especially with the fate of the Mounted Patrol unit up in the air.

Currently several business owners are raising money to save the unit at least until March, when voters will have the final say whether to keep the 30-year unit operational at the annual Town Meeting.

"It does not make sense to advocate cutting one unit and replace it with another," Sullivan said.

However, Sullivan said a K-9 unit would be a positive addition to the department.

He cited an incident several weeks ago where a K-9 dog from the Portsmouth Police Department was instrumental in finding a lost woman in town.

"We had a lost lady who wandered away from home and was feared to be in the woods with ill health," Sullivan said. "We borrowed the Portsmouth dog and once it arrived within 20 minutes he found the woman and she was safe and sound."

But, he said, there are also negatives.

Recently a drug-sniffing state police dog, he said, bit a 13-year-old girl in Concord, who was trying to protect her pet from the dog, which was in the area for a drug investigation.

"And now the agency is dealing with problems with that," Sullivan said.

Selectman Rick Griffin wasn't too impressed with the idea of a K-9 unit.

"Where are we going to use these dogs Jerry?" Griffin asked.

"We will use them to sniff out drug dealings in the winter time," Znoj said.

Griffin said he doesn't believe there is a major drug problem in town.

"I'm sick of hearing about the town of Hampton and the allusion that there are all these drug problems," Griffin said. "I have a hard time believing it's a lot worse in Hampton than in Manchester, Portsmouth and probably Seabrook. I think the people come from these towns and bring their drugs."

Sullivan, however, said there is a drug problem, especially at the beach during the winter time.

"To say that we don't have a problem is untrue," Sullivan said. "We absolutely have issues. Every community has them."

Sullivan noted that establishing a K-9 unit would be an expensive undertaking.

According to a Police Department that has a unit, new dogs cost anywhere from $4,000 to $15,000 depending on their specialties and level of training. That amount doesn't include officer training, equipment purchases and other associated expenses.

Selectman Richard Bateman noted the Police Department once had a K-9 unit.

"And the then Board of Selectmen cut it," Bateman said.

Selectmen Chairman Richard Nichols questioned whether a K-9 unit could be used for crowd control at the beach.

"I would not advocate using dogs in a crowd control circumstance very often," Sullivan said.

He noted the best tool in the department's arsenal for a crowd control is the Mounted Patrol.

Nichols said he would at least like to see a proposal about the possibility of starting a K-9 unit.

"I would like to hear your opinion not necessary now but after you do some research on the effectiveness and the cost," Nichols said.

Sullivan said he would bring forward a proposal but later in the meeting said he would rather put efforts into attracting more part-timers and getting staffing levels where they need to be at.

"You want to put money in for a dog that will benefit us at times," Sullivan said. "I again would prefer that we get our staffing at the part-time level up to where they need to be before we add some of these additions."