New K-9 police program could be coming to Rochester

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published May 3, 2016

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ROCHESTER — For the past two years, the Rochester Police Department has seen a surge in calls for service, which, in turn, has caused the department’s response time for non-emergency incidents to increase for the first time in seven years.

With the average jumping from four minutes and four seconds to five minutes, Rochester Police Chief Steve Schettenhelm is hoping to bring that number back down with the help of a new K-9 program.

Schettenhelm appeared before the City Council on April 25 to discuss the department’s need for the new program. He argued that the K-9 unit would be a huge asset to the police force and the city.

The Rochester Police Department does not currently have a K-9 unit, and Schettenhelm said that presents a problem, because half of the time police want to use a K-9, they cannot secure one from Oakland County or any neighboring police department.

“When we’ve made the decision we would like a K-9, we make the calls — so dispatch gets on the phone and starts calling area departments — and about 50 percent of the time, we are successful,” Schettenhelm explained. “Time is distance, so the longer it takes — whether it is a young child, a missing older person or a bad guy — the more time we give them, the farther they are away.”

By having a K-9 unit ready to go, Schettenhelm said the department would be able to make a better-educated decision on what to do with its manpower on the scene of a crime, rather than waiting for the K-9 team to arrive.

“That gives us the most bang for the buck in trying to locate a person,” he said.

Schettenhelm said an additional officer and K-9 would have a flexible schedule and could also help with response times by adding another body, which he said is a proactive response to the possible impact of future city development proposed in the near future.

The addition of a new K-9 program would increase the Police Department budget for 2017 by 3.1 percent.

Rochester City Manager Blaine Wing said the initial cost would be between $115,000 and $120,000. He said the full cost for the new police officer is about $95,000 annually — including salary and benefits — while the K-9 — which has an approximate service life of between 8 and 10 years — would cost an additional one-time fee of $15,000. The Police Department would also have to place a K-9 cage into an existing police vehicle for around $5,000, as well as pay for vet bills, training and food.

Schettenhelm said he’s working with administration to help find some additional money in the Police Department’s budget to put toward the expense, such as holding off on some purchases that aren’t absolutely necessary for the next year.

“You have done a lot of things to make this work,” Councilwoman Ann Peterson said to the chief during the meeting. “As we have grown, we truly do need to look at how we are putting you out there and taxing the Police Department for the growth that we have seen and had.”

Councilman Ben Giovanelli said he was glad to see that the chief has some ideas to limit dipping into the city’s fund balance for the total expense, which he is not in favor of.

“I have been up here for eight years and, chief, I have never seen you work harder for anything, and that has not gone unnoticed. And I appreciate you sharpening your pencil on finding ways to pay for this,” Giovanelli said.

The City Council unanimously agreed to place the expense for the new K-9 program into the fiscal year ending 2017 proposed budget, which will be up for approval during the May 9 City Council meeting.

If approved, Lt. Paul Maytnka said the department would likely receive the K-9 in October, and it would have to complete an extensive training program before being able to go out in the field.

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