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North Huntingdon adds Rocco to its three-member K-9 force

Joe Napsha
| Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017, 11:36 p.m.

For the first time in five years, North Huntingdon will have three police dogs to fight crime and the unrelenting drug problem in the community.

Commissioners this week approved Patrolman Justin Wardman as the township's new K-9 officer. He will work with Rocco, his 16-month-old Belgian Malinois. The dog is certified for patrol duty and in detecting marijuana, heroin, crack cocaine and methamphetamine, Wardman said.

“It's a good force multiplier,” he said.

Lt. Rod Mahinske, the department's ranking officer, was directed to have Wardman and Rocco on duty by Nov. 15, pending an agreement with Wardman on the handling, care and training of the dog.

Wardman, a former K-9 officer in Uniontown and Elizabeth, said Rocco is ready.

“Why have him sit when he can be used right now?” said Wardman, who last month asked the commissioners to name him the K-9 officer.

Wardman will join Sgt. Kari Bauer, the ranking K-9 officer, and Officer Jeremy Nichols as the township's three K-9 officers.

This is the second police dog the township has acquired in the past three months. Bauer underwent training in Sharon with her new dog, Zargo, who replaced her previous K-9, which died this spring.

Wardman told the commissioners he received the dog for free from a friend and trained with the dog at a kennel in the Poconos. He estimated the K-9 is worth $7,600 and the training was worth $5,500, neither of which will cost North Huntingdon.

“It was an opportunity too good to pass up,” Wardman said.

North Huntingdon will “lease” the dog from Wardman for a nominal fee. The dog will revert to Wardman when he leaves the police force.

Wardman will use an existing Crown Victoria that will be converted into a K-9 car; its rear seat will be removed and replaced with modified cage the township owns, Mahinske said. A ventilation system must be added to the car to prevent the dog from overheating in the summer, and the vehicle will be disinfected, he said.

The police department will ask for money for 2019 to buy a sport utility vehicle to transport Rocco, Mahinske said.

As part of the agreement, Wardman won't seek reimbursement for any police dog training before he is named to be designated a K-9 officer. K-9 officers are paid about one-half hour of overtime for each day, which amounts to about $1,800 for the remainder of the year, Mahinske said.

Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-5252 or jnapsha@tribweb.com.

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