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One year after joining force, Officer Ben a 'phenomenal asset'

Date: 11/10/2008

By Courtney Llewellyn

Reminder Assistant Editor

WILBRAHAM It has been nearly a year since Officer Ben joined the ranks of the Wilbraham Police Department, and the yellow Labrador retriever has been a "phenomenal asset," according to K-9 Officer Joe Brewer.

"The only 'downside' is his currently being a single purpose dog," Brewer stated.

Police Chief Allen Stratton, Capt. Raymond Kallaugher and Brewer met with the Board of Selectmen on Nov. 3 to update them and the town on the work the K-9 unit has been doing. Brewer broke down Ben's work into three month increments, starting with December 2007 through February 2008.

Officer Ben's first call was for a motor vehicle accident where the operator fled on foot from the scene. Ben helped find the person and he was charged with leaving the scene of an accident.

In his first three months, Ben and Brewer attended six community policing events and responded to seven incidents (three off duty, four on duty). From March to May 2008, they attended 12 community policing events and responded to four on duty and four off duty calls. From June to August, there were nine off duty incidents and two on duty, with two community policing events. From September through the date of the selectmen's meeting, Brewer and Ben attended five community policing events and responded to three on duty calls.

Community policing events include visits to schools, the Wilbraham Public Library, civic groups, children's groups and the schools' D.A.R.E. programs. Brewer said these events are "very rewarding."

Over the past 10 months, Ben has helped both the Wilbraham Police Department and other area departments track children and Alzheimer's patients reported missing and aided in convicting a number of motor vehicle operators who left the scene of accidents.

"The program is going well," Kallaugher stated. He noted that Brewer's experience as a K-9 officer in Southwick has been very useful.

Selectman James Thompson asked the officers about the possibility of cross-training Ben to be able to seek out illegal drugs. Brewer replied that the dog had a medical evaluation in September and that cross-training is on hold for now because of a possible thyroid condition.

Selectman David Barry inquired about the funding for the K-9 unit.

"We're doing well," Kallaugher said. "Our donations so far add up to $12,037 and we have a current balance of $2,496." He added that all expenses for the K-9 unit have been covered by the gift fund established last winter.

"We're anticipating expenses will be much, much less this year," he said. The largest expenses -- the trip to North Carolina to pick up Ben, certification training, the purchase of a kennel and outfitting a cruiser for the needs of a K-9 unit -- were one-time costs. Things like medical care and food are being donated by businesses and groups in the community.

"Our donors are phenomenal in their support," Brewer stated.

He added that the department is planning on hosting some community events soon to replenish the funds for the K-9 unit.