BY PAUL LEIGHTON
---- — BEVERLY — The Beverly Lions Club wants to provide police with reinforcements — the four-legged kind.
The club is trying to raise $15,000 to start a K-9 unit for the Beverly Police Department. The money would be used to buy one dog and to pay for its training and other expenses.
Lions Club President Scott Clark said the club got the idea from the Salem Lions Club, which helped raise money to purchase three dogs and start a K-9 unit for the Salem Police Department.
“We saw how great the community response was in Salem, and I said, ‘Why not Beverly?” Clark said.
Beverly police Capt. Christopher Negrotti told city councilors this week that the department would “substantially benefit” from a K-9 unit.
Negrotti said the department has fewer officers than in the past to cover a city of 40,000 people and 15 square miles.
Trained dogs would help officers find missing people, search buildings, catch criminals, locate evidence and respond to disturbances, he said.
When the need for a search dog arises now, Beverly police must call state police, the Essex County Sheriff’s Department or another law enforcement agency with a K-9 unit. Negrotti said those agencies are very cooperative, but the response is still delayed, which can hurt the chances of finding a missing child or elderly person.
“This is where a Beverly K-9 unit would satisfy the city’s need for immediacy and consistency,” Negrotti said.
Ray said each dog would live with the officer who is its handler.
In Salem, several groups joined forces to raise more than $44,000 to establish a K-9 unit. The city bought three German shepherds in October.
The dogs and their handlers are taking part in a 14-week training course at the Boston Police K9 Academy and should be ready for work in January, Salem Capt. Brian Gilligan said.
Gilligan said the dogs have made a number of public appearances, including in the Halloween parade, and have been a big hit with the community.
“Part of starting the program was the community policing component, and that’s gone very well so far,” Gilligan said. “There are just so many tasks for them to do, and the immediacy of having your own dogs in your own community pays great dividends.”
There are approximately 300 K-9 dogs in police departments across the state, according to Massachusetts Vest-a-Dog, an organization that provides bulletproof vests and other equipment for the dogs.
Some of the departments have several dogs, like Boston, which has about 23, while others have just one. Danvers and Gloucester are among the local departments that have K-9s.
Mayor Bill Scanlon told city councilors that the biggest issue with a K-9 unit is the cost of maintaining it. The units are often the first to get cut when a department is facing budget problems, he said.
“I’m not against it, but I do think we want to be careful,” Scanlon said. “We can’t afford to have everything.”
Clark, the Lions Club president, said a dog costs about $6,500. The club hopes to raise $15,000 to cover training and other costs.
Clark said the club wants to raise the money by October, when the next training session for K-9s begins.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or firstname.lastname@example.org.