Photos courtesy of James Paige for the Salem Police Department
Starting this winter, the Salem Police Department will have three furry new officers patrolling the streets.
Thor, Kruger and Turbo, three German Shepherds obtained by the Salem Police Department, will enter 14 weeks of training on October 1 in Boston, and should be certified for service sometime in mid-January.
Patrolmen Ryan Davis, Jon Bedard and Tim Salvo will become the first K-9 officers the city has had in three decades, and last week all three were in Boston to meet their new partners.
"They were very excited," Salem Police Captain Brian Gilligan said. "It was a great day. We learned a lot about how they select the K-9's."
Gilligan said that the three officers were picked by a board of K-9 experts out of a group of patrolmen eager to have a dog, and the dogs were picked specifically for the officers. The dogs live with their handlers, and went home with them last Friday.
The trust and familiarity between K-9 and patrolmen is key, Gilligan said.
"They obviously want to form a bond, they're going to be partners and spending a lot of time together," Gilligan said. "You want them to be as acclimated to each other, or used to each other, as they can be once the training starts, so it's a good thing to get a couple of weeks under their belt before they start trying to train the dogs."
The addition of the K-9 units - which the department tried but failed to secure funding for in the fiscal year 2013 budget - was made possible by the efforts of the Mack Park Neighborhood Association, a highly-involved community organization representing a large portion of North Salem.
The group originally had their sights set on two dogs at a cost of about $30,000, including the cost for all of the associated equipment and supplies to care for them. But after raising around $44,000, the department sprung for one more.
Officer Timothy Salvo gets acquainted with his new partner last week in Boston.
Rose Mary O'Connor, chair of the Mack Park Neighborhood Association, credits an outpouring of public support that she says she has never seen anything like over her 40-plus years of living in Salem.
"I have never seen people so excited about anything," O'Connor said. "It's been astounding. The help that we've had, everybody is there to help."
Along with help from the Salem Moose, Salem Lions, local businesses, and a $5,000 donation from Massachusetts Vest-a-Dog, a number of private citizens have stepped up in a big way. One man, who O'Connor declined to name, has committed to purchasing the bullet-proof vests the dogs will need.
According to O'Connor, a number of local veterinarians have expressed interest in donating their services to care for the dogs, and the neighborhood group has been in touch with pet supply shops about possible discounts on food.
Among the group's most notable fundraising efforts was the Dunk-a-Cop event they held on the Essex Pedestrian Mall during Salem Heritage Days, in which members of the police department, including Chief Paul F. Tucker, made themselves willing victims of a dunk-tank. The group will hold a dinner this Saturday at the Waterfront Hotel.
"There are always more ongoing expenses and more equipment, incidentals coming up that you didn't anticipate," O'Connor said.
Acquiring the dogs and equipment is fairly expensive - the department still needs one more cruiser to be outfitted with a kennel - and ongoing care will need to be factored into future budgets. But Gilligan, who oversees all community events, says that owning the dogs will eventually offset the cost the city racks up every year bringing in dogs and handlers from outside agencies for major events such as Halloween.
But the dogs can also have a major impact on a day-to-day basis, which Gilligan illustrates with an incident from just a few weeks ago.
"A kid had broken into a house, and fortunately there ended up being a state police K-9 in the area, which isn't always the case," Gilligan said. "He was able to show up in a reasonable time, and they were able to track that guy right to his hiding spot in just a matter of minutes."
After basic training, the dogs will go through specialized training that will turn them into locating tools for things like narcotics, people, and firearms or explosives.
Gilligan said he plans on staggering the schedules of the three units, so that the department has one K-9 on duty every night.
"For us to have immediate access at night, it really enhances public safety in a big way," he said.
Ryan Mooney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @mooney_ryan.