Program comes free to city
Criminals just paid to bring the K-9 program back to Maitland.
The city will reinstate the program after a two-year hiatus using federal forfeiture funds — money, drugs and other seized property — earned from its police department’s participation in federal task forces.
Maitland Police Chief Doug Ball said the department has used forfeiture funds on everything from upgrading all of their weapons to buying computers and office furniture for the new Edward Doyle Police Building.
“All of the furniture was purchased compliments of your local drug dealers,” Ball said at the Oct. 10 meeting where City Council approved his request to bring back the program.
In 2009, Maitland retired its only K-9 officer, Alix, amid tough budget times. Ball said the police department has suffered since, as sharing other cities’ K-9 units has proven undependable.
“The response time is extremely slow and sometimes not available at all,” Ball said. “It has impacted our services to the residents.”
Maitland’s new canine-officer team will be able to partner with Winter Park and Apopka’s K-9 programs to share resources, Ball said. Their schedules will be adjusted so there will always be a K-9 unit on duty in the three cities.
“When our K-9 officer is off, we’ll have immediate coverage provided by Winter Park or Apopka, giving us K-9 services available seven days a week,” he said.
The bill for the first year, which includes the dog, the patrol car, the salary of the K-9 handler and equipment, is $105,820. In 2013, the annual cost goes down to $60,715.
But the city might not have to pick up that entire tab. Two organizations — The Committee of 100 and Curtis Protective Services — and an anonymous resident have contacted the city about donating funds to help cover K-9 costs, he said.
“With no outside funding, we have sufficient funding to pay for the officer’s salary and car, down to buying dog food and paying the vet bills for the dog,” Ball said.
More than 600 hours of training is required for the K-9 officer. The cost to purchase and train a dog can run as much as $10,000. But Apopka, which has its own K-9 training school, has offered to train Maitland’s dog free of charge, he said.
Two Council members expressed support for the program and recounted positive experiences they’ve had with K-9s.
Councilman Phil Bonus said someone broke into his office building just a few weeks ago and a K-9 officer that happened to be training nearby alerted and caught the suspect.
“I see the value in this kind of project,” said Bonus, who’s also the founder of the city’s K-9 Police Officer Memorial Garden.
Councilwoman Linda Frosch shared a similar anecdote — a K-9 officer calmed her fears when he came on a call to her house.
“I love the officers, but when I saw the dog, I was like, ‘Alright, I’m fine,’” she said.
Just before the vote on Oct. 10, Frosch asked Ball if Council could meet the new K-9 officer when he or she reports for duty.
Ball agreed. “We’ll be posting the position and accepting applications,” he added with a smile.
Honoring furry officers
Even though the K-9 program wasn’t active, Maitland was still active in honoring its past officers.
In April, the city dedicated its K-9 Police Officer Memorial Garden at the Edward Doyle Police Building. The graves of four long-departed K-9 officers — Bear, Max, Sarge and Sivil — were moved there. Alix, the former Maitland K-9 officer who died in February, was also buried there.
Alix’s handler of nine years, Sgt. Chris O’Halek, said Tuesday that he’s ecstatic that Maitland is bringing the program back.
“I’ve been in law enforcement for 20 years, and it is the best thing I’ve ever done,” O’Halek said.