The Salem Police Department might be adding two new members this fall.
The Mack Park Neighborhood Association (MPNA) - a highly-involved community organization representing a large portion of North Salem - is spearheading an effort to raise $30,000 to add two K-9 units to the force at the request of police officials, something that the department has not had in more than three decades.
Officials with the department were not immediately available for comment.
The MPNA has received a $5,000 donation from Massachusetts Vest-A-Dog, and they have fundraising events in the works - including three tag days in mid-August, a golf tournament on August 27 at Olde Salem Greens, a dunk-tank during Salem Heritage Days, a benefit dinner, and professional dog portraits by Photography by Corinna - but they have a lot of work ahead.
The next training class for K-9 units is October 1 at the Boston Police Department. If they don't raise the money by then, they will have to wait another year for the next one. The fundraising efforts just began in late June.
"We can't do it with the planning that you normally would do for these things," said Rose Mary O'Connor, chair of the MPNA. "We just have to get everything done in a hurry."
According to O'Connor, the $30,000 required to start includes the cost of the dogs and all of the associated equipment, including supplies to care for them. They will live with the officers that handle them, and so far around 14 officers have expressed interest in becoming K-9 units.
Private citizens have already donated a pair of bulletproof dog vests, which run about $1,200 each.
It is a high initial cost, much more than the city spends each year to rent K-9 units from other agencies to help out with large-scale community events, but the department will save money in the long run over renting every year. The department was unable to secure funding in the fiscal year 2013 budget.
"The start-up cost is more expensive [than renting], but once it gets going we've had veterinarians in town express a willingness to help out with their services...and then the food we're hoping to get some help with," O'Connor said.
In O'Connor's mind, K-9 units are most beneficial during festivals and celebrations - of which there is no shortage in Salem - due to their ability to due the work of multiple human officers.
"Because we have so many projects here in the city, or celebrations, there's always something going on that we spend a lot of money bringing in K-9's from other departments," O'Connor said. "Halloween is now international - it's not a local event anymore, it's international - so with so many coming to the city they really fill a need. There are many situations where one K-9 can take the place of [many] officers searching for a missing child or adult, whatever it may be."
Project K-9 will hold its next meeting Tuesday night at 6:30 at the Moose Family Center Lodge at 50 Grove Street.
Ryan Mooney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.