According to city manager Brian Muenger, who was a guest speaker at Thursday’s Rotary meeting, the idea for reviving the canine program came from one of the many burglary victims earlier this year.
“Countywide,” Muenger said, “we had 324 burglaries for the first three months of this year. Of those, 120 were in the city limits. Police were able to make 34 arrests in connection with those burglaries, and only three were first time offenders who were not out on bond, probation or parole.”
During the following three months, the number of residential burglaries in the city declined by about 70 percent.
Still, one of the victims pointed out to the council that if the city had access to a tracking dog, some of the offenders could have been caught sooner, and the number of burglaries would have been lower.
According to Police Chief Alan Watson, the city has had success with canines in the past. The problem now is, the initial costs of the program, including purchase of the dog, training for the dog and handler, veterinary bills, shelter, transportation and other concerns comes to between $22,000 and $25,000 per year.
“You need to have the right dog, but you also need to make sure you’ve got the right handler,” Watson said. He said he had approached the Sheriff’s Department about a partnership and had been well received, but there was no commitment yet from the county.
Watson recommended that the dog be trained to both track people and to detect drugs. He also said a German shepherd would likely be more intimidating than a Belgian Mallonois.
Muenger emphasized that, even once the funding is secured, there will still be several months lead time for the dog and handler to undergo the proper training. Watson said it will probably be about a year before they hit the street.
Currently, there is no agency in Talladega, St. Clair or Calhoun counties with a trained police dog.
Rotary chairwoman Pat Miller pointed out that the community would need to come forward with donations as well, adding that the dogs would be particularly useful in the schools.
Watson agreed, saying the animal would not only represent excellent public relations but might also encourage more youngsters to pursue careers in law enforcement.
Muenger said he is also looking into opportunities for grant funding.