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Penn weighing cost of adding police dog

| Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Though they acknowledge the benefits of having a police dog, Penn Township commissioners still are evaluating whether to reserve nearly $27,000 for training for a new dog next year because of compensation issues for the next handler.

They are hesitant, in part, because the township does not have a formal agreement specifying the pay structure for a handler. Officials settled the previous handler's federal lawsuit over overtime compensation that resulted when he cared for a now-retired dog at home during off hours.

Until the officer's 2012 lawsuit, the police department had an unwritten policy for compensating dog handlers for more than a decade, police Chief John Otto said.

“The days of an informal agreement are behind us, unfortunately,” he said.

While Solicitor Les Mlakar recommended that the commissioners negotiate the compensation for dog handlers into the police labor contract, officials noted that it could be difficult to reopen the pact less than two years into the five-year deal. Negotiations on the existing contract, which was retroactive to January 2012, continued until commissioners approved the deal in February 2013.

Still, commissioners agreed with Otto that a dog would be useful. Otto referred to his department's 24 drug-related arrests in September and said it would have been helpful for officers to have a dog to track a suspect during an Oct. 20 incident.

“I agree with the chief that we've got a drug issue in our community that's, I think, larger than we want to recognize,” Commissioner Larry Harrison said.

Commissioner Paul Wersing said the hardest part of re-establishing a police-dog unit is having a handler available to participate in the training. No officers are in line for the post at this point, he said.

Wersing also said there are other expenses, such as equipment, that are necessary in the capital budget.

Chris Foreman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8671, or cforeman@tribweb.com.

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