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The eight police dogs from Atlantic City, the Atlantic County Sheriff’s Office, Egg Harbor Township, Hammonton and Somers Point were models of professionalism during a public demonstration Friday afternoon at the Anthony “Tony” Canale Training Center.
The German shepherds and Belgian malinoises expertly followed their partners’ commands without barking as they pointed out an explosive hidden away in a sport utility vehicle, tracked down a lost boy in the woods by following his scent and chased after a crime suspect shooting a gun.
The demonstration, which lasted about 40 minutes, drew more than 60 adults and children. The event also served as a platform for local politicians and police officials to stress the importance of having police dogs, especially since Atlantic City pulled its patrol unit off duty Aug. 24 amid allegations that the canines used excessive force during arrests. Before that, the city used 19 police canines to patrol and investigate for narcotics and explosives. City officials are investigating the complaints.
Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson said all of the police dogs that graduate from the county K-9 academy are highly disciplined, highly trained and should “restore public confidence in canines as life-savers.”
While K-9 police officers regularly perform public demonstrations, Atlantic City Police Chief John Mooney said Friday’s event was intended to counteract the “unwarranted smear against the handlers and canine patrols” who used to go out every day to protect the city. “These K-9 teams can search a building and do the work of 10 men doing that,” he said. “There’s great value in these K-9 teams.”
Mayor Lorenzo Langford, who issued the order to halt the K-9 patrols, did not appear at the demonstration. A phone call to Langford’s office late Friday afternoon was not returned. Atlantic City Council Vice President Dennis Mason, a former police officer who is running against Langford for mayor, said he attended the demonstration to support the canines.
City Council President William Marsh criticized Levinson earlier this week for injecting himself into the argument.
“You let him go to it,” Marsh said of Levinson and his training demonstration. “He probably needs a GPS to get to Back Maryland.”
Business Administrator Michael Scott said this week that PBA President David Davidson and members of the Superior Officers Union have worked together with the administration to come to a peaceful resolution to the situation. He also said the administration is seeking police cooperation to make its own K-9 training video to air on the city’s public-access channel.
“We can do that as long as the police chief gives permission,” Scott said. “If not, we may have to have it done by another department within the county.”
The large audience who came out to see the police dogs in action were treated to a visual feast of different mock investigations.
In one scenario, Hammonton canine Nero sniffed around two SUVS, then sat down and pointed his nose at the front tire of one vehicle. Officer Jared Baglivo quickly pulled out a tucked-away cache of C-4 explosive.
In another scenario, Atlantic City canine Dak helped officer George Adams twice in chasing down runaway bad guy, played by Egg Harbor Township Officer Chris Berry. Dak allowed Berry to get away during the first exhibit when Adams ordered the dog to stay back. In the second exhibit, Dak caught Berry by the arm and pulled him down to the ground.
The demonstrations impressed Linda Schrading, a Galloway Township veterinarian, her daughters, Jessica, 12, and Morganne, 8, and family friend Emilie Karovic, 9.
Morganne said she liked how the dogs were able to jump over fences quickly. Jessica said it was cool that a police dog remained calm during the gunshots while she was frightened. “I jumped, and the dog just sat there and acted like it was nothing,” she said.
Schrading said she was surprised by how obedient the canines were and their strong sense of smell. “It’s amazing the rapport the dogs and officers have together,” she said. “They are so connected. They respond to commands immediately. It would be so nice if my children were so responsive.”
Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson wants to school Mayor Lorenzo Langford and the public on the uses of police dogs in an effort to prevent the mayor from making any more “draconian” decisions.
Levinson invited Langford and police Chief John J. Mooney to a K-9 demonstration in Egg Harbor Township in response to the mayor’s recent decision to halt the use of patrol dogs over allegations of misuse. Levinson said he hopes to convey the dogs’ importance to the community and stressed a need to resolve the situation quickly.
“For these dogs to be sitting in cages right now, it’s certainly not in anyone’s best interest,” Levinson said. “If an officer uses his weapon inappropriately, we don’t remove all the guns, do we? The mayor is under different pressures in Atlantic City, and he may have different information, but on the surface, this is certainly something that I would not have done.”
Langford could not be reached for comment Monday, but his spokesman said the mayor intended to send a written response to Levinson.
“This is not something that he has to teach to our community,” spokesman Kevin Hall said. “He seems to imply that we’re not aware of the importance of these dogs. The mayor takes issue with that. The mayor is responding to citizen complaints.”
Those complaints have not been confirmed with data from the Mayor’s Office. Langford’s order to indefinitely remove the patrol dogs began an administrative investigation into the unit’s practices. The administration requested data from the Internal Affairs Division of the Police Department regarding incidents of police brutality and police dog apprehensions, including Internal Affairs files.
Mooney said Monday he would not provide copies of the Internal Affairs reports, based on advice from Atlantic County Prosecutor Ted Housel.
The chief asked Housel for a legal opinion on the whether the administration has a right to see the reports. Housel referred him to state statute and attorney general’s guidelines deeming the files confidential unless administrative charges are filed or if the reports are demanded by the court or Attorney General’s Office.
The chief would not provide a copy of the Housel’s memo, at the prosecutor’s request.
Mooney said he does still plan to compile statistical data regarding the K-9 unit for the administration. The information has also been requested by The Press of Atlantic City.
Hall said the administration already began receiving reports, but did not say who provided them. The administration intends to release a statement Tuesday regarding the reports.
The removal of patrol dogs has already started to change things in the Police Department, including the way officials write news releases. On Saturday, the department publicly reported a home-invasion incident. Sgt. Monica McMenamin made sure to point out that patrol dogs were needed, but the assistance could not be provided. As a result, more officers were called to the scene, McMenamin said, adding that Officer Frankie Lane injured his arm and back during a foot pursuit of the suspects.