LONGMEADOW – The town recently was approved for a $25,000 grant from the Stanton Foundation, which could create a K-9 unit in the Police Department, pending acceptance of the grant by the Select Board.
The board decided at its Feb. 17 meeting to postpone an official vote due to having three out of five board members present.
Selectman Mark Gold, who acted as interim chair during Selectmen Chair Richard Foster’s absence, said one issue with accepting the grant was due to a previous vote by the board on the implementation of a K-9 unit in June 2013 to apply for a similar grant, which failed by a 2 to 2 vote with one abstention.
“My call on this, if I can make a call, is that you don’t have three to nothing support, so you should wait,” he added.
Town Manager Stephen Crane stated in a report that the board declined to pursue the grant in 2013 because of concerns about costs associated with training an officer to be the handler and whether the program would be financially feasible after the grant’s three-year lifespan.
“Since that time, a few factors have emerged that make the establishment of a K-9 unit a good fit for the town,” he added. “These factors include a better understanding of the town manager and Select Board roles, the rise in property crimes in Longmeadow along with the investigation of those crimes that has included calling on K9 units from other departments, and the Surrounding Community Agreement with MGM Springfield that will provide annual mitigation payments for the town.”
Crane said a rash of break-ins in the Blueberry Hill neighborhood occurred last summer and several car break-ins throughout town “have highlighted that Longmeadow is already a target for criminals.”
“I think on at least one occasion we called for help from the state police K-9 unit and they did come and help investigate,” he added. “This is a deployment of the K-9 unit that is helpful when you’re trying to track suspects [for] break-ins. We realized that it would have been very useful to have our own.”
The grant is designed to cover the startup costs of a K-9 unit program for three years and after that point one possibility for funding could come from a small portion of the $275,000 the town will receive annually from MGM, Crane said.
Additional costs, such as overtime, veterinary care, food, and a vehicle for a K-9 unit would be offset through casino mitigation funds, he noted. These costs would be in “the thousands, not the tens of thousands.”
He added, “We learned through our research during the Surrounding Community process that property crimes and drug crimes are two of the areas that communities experience increases in [based on statistics] in some places where casinos had been built in enjoining communities.”
If the K-9 program were established, an officer on the patrol force who would want to be the K-9 officer would require specialized training and “while that person is in training, that position would need to be filled,” he added.
“On the day the doors open at the casino, we would have the K-9 unit already implemented and established and ready to go, so on day one we’re ready to mitigate those impacts,” Crane said.
Crane said he applied in January and did not notify the entire board until Feb. 17 because his role as town manager allows him to coordinate grants and also due to a deadline for submitting the grant. He said he did notify Foster.
Selectman Alex Grant said, “I guess to me, this is kind of a way to assert authority of the town manager over something.”
He added, “It wasn’t a wise move... On the merits, I support you. That’s not the point. It’s a question of, in government, the point isn’t what you do, it’s whose doing it, on what authority, and with what approval. There are lots of things that one can do in government that are good ideas that if given approval would get approval, but you’re dead wrong if you don't follow the procedures.”
Selectman Marie Angelides said the topic was previously discussed at least two years ago and “there isn’t any issue with revisiting the issue.”
She added, “There’s not always evil intent. There’s not always an attempt to put something over on someone else and I am really tired of the characterization of whether its employees or other board members, of doing things with ill intent. Right now it was brought in front of us, he had a deadline, he submitted it, it wasn't anything bad about it.”