Officers are counting on community donations to bring the police dog program back into service.
By Matt Skoufalos
The Oaklyn Police Department has received approval from the borough government to revive its K-9 program.
But like many causes these days, the officers will have to do some fundraising to realize their dream.
Buying and outfitting “a highly socialized, trained canine” will cost about $15,000, said Oaklyn Police Chief Mark Moore, and the particulars do add up.
The department is saving money by outfitting one of its Ford Crown Victorias as a K-9 transport, but it will cost another $2,500 to install necessities like a fan, door release, and heat sensor to keep the dog from overheating.
There’s another $3,500 for equipment—including a cage, ballistic vest, leads, collars, harnesses, and a bite sleeve for training—and $1,650 for medical insurance, vet bills, and food.
After the initial investment, the program will cost about $2,000 to maintain in subsequent years, Moore said.
Donors, most of them local business owners, have already contributed $5,300. That still leaves about $9,700 to go, and the project is on something of a timeline.
In September, the Voorhees Police Department, which is also in the market for a police dog, will host a K-9 academy series that will be free for Camden County police departments.
If Oaklyn police can collect enough money to purchase the dog by the end of August, they can save the expense of attending a K-9 academy in nearby Philadelphia or the time spent traveling out of the area to classes in Atlantic City or northern New Jersey.
Without the support of the community and elected officials, the program wouldn’t even be up for discussion. Moore added that what really convinced the borough government was the support the program received from local businesses; “that, obviously, they want it.”
But to reach the final dollar amount, he said, “It’s going to take support from the businesses or residents; the same support we’ve been getting.”
Noses, not mouths
Oaklyn Patrolman Matthew Olivieri has led the push to revive the K-9 program and would be partnered with the new dog, a German shepherd likely to come from a North Carolina breeder.
Olivieri, a 13-year veteran of the department, already has a Rottweiler at home and says he knows what K-9 trainers look for in a police dog.
“They want play drive,” he said. “They test them for stairs, slippery floors; that they’re not shy on gunshots. They test their bite, if they’re going to hold or just release.”
Although police dogs are commonly thought of as ferocious, Moore said K-9’s are trained to be social around children, other animals, and their fellow officers, and do the majority of their work “with their noses and not their mouths.”
The Oaklyn K-9 would be cross-trained to handle scent tracking of missing or wanted persons as well as drug detection, Moore said. Both are skills that would directly support policing the most common crimes in the borough, he said: burglaries and narcotics.
“Burglaries are our biggest problem, and when people run, it’s so difficult to get them [when officers are]in a police car,” the chief said, “whereas a dog can track a scent if it’s available immediately.”
Having a K-9 unit on hand in Oaklyn would allow the department to respond to an incident within minutes instead of waiting to call in a unit from another town, Olivieri said. It could also allow Oaklyn to support police operations in neighboring communities faster than K-9 units from the Camden County Sheriff or Cherry Hill Police.
“To have the dog available right away is key,” he said. “Over time, you lose scent. Fifteen to 20 minutes is a long time when it comes to that.”
‘A good PR tool’
One of the biggest duties of the new dog, however, will be as a departmental ambassador at community events, especially classroom demonstrations.
Retired Oaklyn Police Chief Joseph Abbate, who worked as a K-9 handler with his dog, Hoover, for about three years, said the program is “such a good PR tool” for police.
“He started out as my pet, and the opportunity arose for me to train with him,” Abbate said. “I loved him. He was a good dog. He was good for the town.
“For a small town like Oaklyn,” Abbate said, interacting with the public “was almost a major part of the deployment of the dog.”
Hoover only was taken out of service because Abbate’s responsibilities changed as he was promoted and there wasn’t enough time to train the dog, he said.
“It’s very intense and it’s repetitive,” Abbate said.” You have to train three days a week at the start and at least once a week after they’re certified.
“The training is very tough, it’s very difficult,” he said, “but they’re going to do such a great job with that dog. I know when he’s available, he’s going to be phenomenal.”
Those interested in supporting the Oaklyn K-9 program don’t even have to mail a check, said Chief Mark Moore. Call Oaklyn Police at 856-854-0049 and a representative of the department will come pick it up.