Homer City, PA Police Seek Funds for Proposed K-9 Officer

From The Tribune-Review by Jeff Himler, June 6, 2014

A four-legged officer could soon be joining police patrols in Homer City.

At its regular Tuesday meeting, borough council authorized Sergeant Anthony Jellison to accept financial donations to help defray the estimated cost of $21,250 for the proposed addition of a K-9 officer to the Homer City police force.

Jellison, who is from Westmoreland County, said he has seen the benefits having a K-9 officer has provided for police in such Westmoreland communities as Latrobe and Ligonier. He expressed hope that a similarly trained police dog could help take a bite out of the growing drug trade that has spread through Indiana County.

Jellison would serve as the handler for the K-9 officer if one ultimately is approved for Homer City, and the dog would stay at his residence when not on duty. He said he would undergo a 10-week training class at Shallow Creek Kennels in Sharpsville, Mercer County, which would supply a dog of a shepherd breed to serve as a Homer City K-9 officer.

According to its website, Shallow Creek has provided police service dogs imported from Europe and related services to federal officials as well as to law enforcement agencies in 21 states and Canada. Its clients in Pennsylvania include the state Department of Corrections, the Allegheny County Sheriff’s Department and police in Pittsburgh, Greensburg and Ligonier.

Jellison said he would expect to coordinate the activities of the proposed Homer City K-9 officer with those of the Indiana County Drug Task Force. He noted that the Sheriff’s Office is currently the only law enforcement agency in the county that has a K-9 officer on duty.

Jellison told council members he already sent letters to many local business owners to let them know about his interest in obtaining a K-9 officer and to solicit support. “I’m getting good feedback from them,” he said, with a head start on obtaining the money needed to support the addition of a police dog.

He told council he’d like to have about $18,000 in hand before moving forward with plans to obtain a trained dog. Jellison said that amount should cover the $13,500 cost of the dog and related training, $3,500 for refitting the department’s 2008 Expedition to transport the dog, and $1,000 to be set aside for veterinary care in the event the dog is injured in the line of duty.

He said the K-9-related costs also would include an extra $250 per year to add the dog to the borough’s insurance coverage and $3,000 for other expenses.

Jellison indicated support from the community will cover ongoing costs of food and grooming for the police dog.

Councilman Joe Iezzi asked who would provide police protection in the borough in situations when Jellison and the K-9 officer are called to assist with incidents in other communities.

Jellison replied that it would be no different than the protocol Homer City police already follow when requested to provide backup for other area law enforcement agencies.

“Whenever we’re on duty and somebody calls for assistance, we go,” Jellison said.

Asked to weigh in on adding a K-9 officer, borough solicitor Michael Supinka noted he’d not had a chance to research the issue, but he said, “It sounds good. A lot of municipalities have it.”

In addition to assisting with narcotics investigations, Jellison noted in his letter to businesses that the proposed K-9 officer also would be trained for such duties as tracking a missing child or wanted criminal and searching for discarded items of evidence. He said the dog also could serve as a deterrent to criminal behavior.

Jellison stated that anyone wishing to make a monetary contribution toward the K-9 costs should send a check to the Homer City Police Department K-9 Unit Fundraiser, 30 E. Wiley St., Homer City, PA 15748. Questions can be directed to Jellison during normal weekday business hours at the borough police station, 724-479-9190.

The borough joined Homer-Center School District in agreeing to each cover part of the cost of a replacement truck for the Homer-Center Parks and Recreation Board. It remained to be seen what action would be taken by Center Township, which is the third member entity involved in the rec board.

Last month, the school board agreed to pay up to $8,350 as a one-third share toward the cost of a new rec board truck, but that financial support was contingent on the borough and township each also covering a third of the purchase.

Council on Tuesday agreed to match what the school board had pledged, but borough manager Rob Nymick suggested an alternative to purchasing a new vehicle. He recalled that, in the past, the rec board obtained updated vehicles by inheriting older borough vehicles that were no longer needed when the borough purchased a new unit for its fleet.

Jennifer Jaworski, who is a council representative on the rec board, noted that the last truck the rec board acquired was a used 2001 model. Now, the truck is no longer capable of hauling a mower to trim grass at some of the parks the rec board maintains.

“This has been an issued since April,” Jaworski said.

Nymick noted the borough has allowed the rec board to borrow one of it trucks. Still, he said, “They have three parks that have not been mowed yet.”

In a related matter, council appointed another of its members, President Matt Black, to fill an additional seat on the rec board.

Now that council has adopted an ordinance giving borough officials power to enforce needed repairs or demolition of structures that are deemed “dangerous to the health, safety and welfare” of borough citizens, Nymick said he is preparing to follow up on three properties that have been the subject of citizen complaints. With advice from Supinka, council authorized Nymick to send letters giving the owners of the offending properties 30 days to provide the borough with a plan for correcting the deficiencies. Rather than having additional such cases come before the full council, it was agreed that they could be reviewed by the public safety committee.

Nymick announced the borough’s summer paving program is tentatively set to begin on June 16, weather permitting. Areas slated for work include Bates and North Grant street and Pine Alley.

Council agreed to advertise an ordinance for approval in July that will allow enforcement of a new four-way stop at the intersection of Main and Elm streets. The stop signs have been in place for an initial phase-in period after studies indicated there was insufficient traffic volume to justify replacement of the aging traffic signal there.

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