Council votes 3-2 to keep second K-9 dog, handler

Kevin Spradlin | Capt. Rodney Tucker, right, is the interim police chief of the Hamlet Police Department. Council members questioned Tucker approving the transfer of a patrol officer to become a K-9 handler after the officer paid for K-9 handler certification himself.

Kevin Spradlin |
Capt. Rodney Tucker, right, is the interim police chief of the Hamlet Police Department. Council members questioned Tucker approving the transfer of a patrol officer to become a K-9 handler after the officer paid for K-9 handler certification himself.

By Kevin Spradlin

HAMLET — Former Rockingham Police Chief Eddie Martin was among two dissenting votes in a 3-2 vote that approved retaining a 7-year-old K-9 for the Hamlet Police Department, one of two available for the town of 6,500 people.

The issue arose Tuesday night during the Hamlet City Council’s monthly public meeting. Interim Police Chief Rodney Tucker approached council members about retaining the older dog. The department has lost two K-9 handlers in recent months — part of a mass evacuation of trained officers over the past couple of years. Tucker said it seemed worthwhile to keep the second K-9 because one of his officers had paid to become a K-9 handler with his own money.

Even before Tucker gave the officer the green light, he told the officer — which Tucker declined to identify — that nothing was promised. As turnover continued, the chance for the newly trained K-9 handler came available. Tucker told council members there would essentially be no new costs associate with keeping the second dog, as the city already was paying for the dog’s food and vet bills. The officer paid for the exact same training, from the same trainer, the department’s other K-9 handler received, but out of his own pocket at a cost of about $2,200.

Tucker said the officer paid for the training himself in part to further his law enforcement career.

“He went, got the training on his own,” Tucker explained, noting the officer was able to complete the training while on the clock but that no comp time or overtime was involved.

“I thought that was more than fair,” Tucker said.

The department’s then K-9 handler told Tucker he was leaving for a new job.

“I let this officer take over the dog,” Tucker said. “I have his documents here where he got the training with no cost to the city. You can’t blame a man for wanting to improve his career.”

Well, maybe you can.

It wasn’t the officer’s motivation that bothered City Council members Martin and Jesse McQueen. Instead, it was more of the process. Martin recalled a conversation took place last month in which the council decided to retire the older dog. Tucker said he wasn’t aware of that conversation.

“Nobody shared that with me,” Tucker said.

Further, Tucker said, he had had a conversation about the K-9 handler with former City Manager Marchell Adams-David. It became apparent the conversation wasn’t passed along to council members.

“There’s definitely some miscommunication,” McQueen said. “My issue … with the whole situation …  I could possibly see some civil liabilities. Most of the time that I’m aware of, dogs are trained and paid for through the department with someone paying for the dog to be trained.”

Albert M. Benshoff, standing in as city attorney for T.C. Morphis Jr., both of the Brough Law Firm, dismissed that concern by saying the same training would count in a court of law no matter the funding source.

“In my opnion, it would be crazy for us not to take adv of that service when it … wouldn’t cost us any more” than if the previous K-9 handler was still employed by the city. But Martin, knowing the city needs to pinch pennies where ever possible, wasn’t satisfied.

“I don’t think we should allow any city employee to put us in a position where … somebody’s buying their own” anything, Martin said. “If we want dthe dog, and we want another officer trained, I think we should do it. I don’t think it should be up to the employee, then expect us to honor what he’s done. We had talked bout cutting the dog down to one. It would save a lot of money. I don’t think we need two. It puts us in the position (where) we feel like we’ve got to have another dog. If we’d have wanted him trained, we’d have sent him.”

Councilman Pat Preslar agreed with Martin that the council should have been told about the situation prior to the officer completing the training. Still, said Preslar — a former K-9 handler himself  — “let him work through the life of this dog” which would be two, maybe three more years.

Councilman Tony Clewis said it’d be “a slap in the face” to turn the officer down after he paid for the training on his own.

McQueen said some of the controversy stems from “a miscommunication.”

“I think everybody could be held accountable for that,” he said. “I don’t like th away it happened or the way it occurred. That’s not an indictment on the officer.”

 Training, documentation

In open session, Tucker and council members began to hash out a revised policy regarding overtime and comp time. While much of it centered around the two K-9 handlers and how their time for caring and training the dogs is maintained, Tucker said the policy revision was aimed at the entire department.

Mayor Bill Bayless said Tucker should update the policy and distribute the draft revision to acting City Manager Tammy Kirkley and council members prior to the October meeting.

Filed in: Latest Headlines, News, Public safety

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