It's been about two decades since Batavia PD had a dog patrolling the city with a qualified handler, but that could change if Federal asset forfeiture funds become available.
Chief Shawn Heubusch is asking the City Council to approve a memo of understanding with Homeland Security for the Federal agency to pay for the purchase and training of a K-9 and handler to work in the City of Batavia.
The new K-9 and its handler would be a member of the Batavia police force but on-call if Homeland Security needed K-9 officers for an operation.
Once the MOU is signed, it becomes a waiting game for funds to become available. Currently, by executive order, President Donald Trump is diverting asset forfeiture funds to the construction of a wall along a portion of the Southern U.S. border.
"This is just the very first step," Heubusch said. "This is not an imminent thing. We’re not going to have a K-9 next week. We’re not going to have a K-9 next month. This is something to get in line for the funding."
Under the terms of the agreement, once the funds become available, Homeland Security to cover the estimated $15,000 in purchase and training costs. The city would be responsible for any other costs associated with a K-9, such as outfitting a patrol car, leashes, food, and veterinary care.
Heubusch said he anticipates setting up a fund to receive donations from the community, much as the Sheriff's Office has done, to cover the additional K-9 costs.
While the Sheriff's Office is soon to have two K-9s on duty, and the Department of Environmental Conservation and State Police have K-9s in the area that sometimes assists local law enforcement, a K-9 in the City of Batavia would greatly enhance the Batavia PDs capabilities, Heubusch said.
"We have a great relationship with all of those agencies and they’ve all helped us out in the past, but you’re talking about response time to get to a situation," Heubusch said. "So if there’s a child missing or if there’s an elderly person missing, that’s time that is ticking away."
The last K-9 officer in the city was Ed Mileham, now retired, now a fire chief in Indian Falls.
According to Heubusch, Mileham was taken off of K-9 duty when police unions across the state challenged the lack of overtime pay for K-9 handlers because the officers are often called upon to care for their animals while not officially on duty.
Police departments across the state, Heubusch said, took their K-9s out of service at that point rather than pay overtime.
If Batavia gets a new K-9, Heubusch told the council that Batavia will follow the example of the Sheriff's Office in providing handlers with time to care for their animals as part of their normal duty shifts.
Mileham said he supports Batavia trying to bring back K-9 patrols and noted, as have other police officers over the years, that "bad guys don't like K-9s."
"If you go to a scene and there’s a K-9 on scene, there’s a different demeanor from somebody you’re dealing with," Heubusch said.
Batavia's K-9 will be a patrol dog -- not specifically a drug dog or a bomb dog but a general patrol dog.
"It’s all about being able to provide the best service to the community that we possibly can," Heubusch said. "K-9s can be used in patrol interdiction, to get drugs off the street; they can be used in finding people, if you’ve got a lost loved one or somebody that wandered away, you can do tracking with them.
"If you look at (alarms), we respond to numerous burglary alarms in buildings. It takes two or three officers quite a while to clear a building. A K-9 can do it in a fraction of the time at a fraction of the risk."