K-9 Unit: Sustainability Is The Real Question

There are five K-9 units in Chautauqua County: two at the Sheriff’s Office, one at the New York State Police office in Jamestown, one with the Dunkirk Police Department and one with the Jamestown Police Department.

Apparently, that isn’t enough to make sure there is a unit available at all times one is needed. Twice in recent weeks John Bentley, Lakewood-Busti police chief, has needed a K-9 unit. Both times he had to wait until one from the New York State Police or Jamestown Police Department was available. There is justification, then, for Bentley’s grant request to the federal Homeland Security Department for a $59,000 grant to pay for a K-9 dog and the SUV to transport the K-9 unit.

There is no doubting Bentley’s needs, but there are still questions to be answered. Dave Wordelmann, Lakewood mayor, recently said board members are unsure if the K-9 unit is actually needed while noting the grant will pay for a bomb-sniffing dog, not a drug-sniffing dog that would likely be more useful locally. Wordelmann also said if the dog’s handler is reassigned or takes a job at another police department, the dog will go with the officer, meaning Lakewood loses its investment.

They are good questions, as is this one – is a K-9 Unit sustainable as part of the Lakewood-Busti Police Department’s annual budget?

Any time a municipality pursues federal grants that pay for personnel or equipment, governing boards must take into consideration the long-term costs of the programs once federal funding runs out and the local pain of cutting a program people like. And, make no mistake, federal funding will run out given the need to cut the federal budget and its trillion dollar deficits.

There has been much pain and scrambling locally to fill voids created when federal funding for programs is cut – notably the School Resource Program and the 21st Century program at the Jamestown Public Schools, which lost the 21st Century grant last year and had to scramble to find temporary support for interventions and services for middle and high school students. Starting a program with the support of a federal grant can easily backfire when the funding dries up and a community has to live without a program that was worthwhile but not sustainable within the confines of a local budget.

If a K-9 program really is needed for the Lakewood-Busti Police Department, it should be able to be sustained locally. If it is, then Lakewood should accept the grant. If the program is dependent on federal dollars, then the board should refuse the grant.

It really is that simple.