01/19/2007

Stricter standards for Md. K-9s

By NICK SHIELDS
The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore County officials are applying stricter standards for the purchase of police dogs for a unit that has seen some dogs die of cancer.

The tighter standards, based in part on recommendations from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, include a close review of the dogs' bloodlines, county officials said. The county plans to buy at least three dogs.

A bidding process ended this month, but the county has not announced the results.

The canine unit has 22 police dogs, according to the Baltimore County police union.

The move to buy additional dogs comes after police union representatives raised questions about conditions at the canine unit's training facility.

The facility, in Southwest Area Park in the Baltimore Highlands area, was closed in September 2005 after two dogs died and about 30 employees filed injury reports complaining of headaches, dizziness and respiratory problems. In all, four police dogs that had been stationed at the facility died of cancer, according to the police union.

Last January, the county released results of an estimated $300,000 in environmental testing, declaring the canine facility safe and reporting no environmental links to the deaths of the police dogs.

County Police Chief Terrence B. Sheridan said then that he planned to meet with the union and hoped to have the facility reopened.

But in May, a report commissioned by the county police union and conducted by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Health determined that the site should remain closed until lingering questions about its safety were answered. That month, all seven members of the County Council signed a letter to County Executive James T. Smith Jr. and Sheridan urging more tests at the facility.

In August, county officials called the union-commissioned report flawed and reiterated that the site was "environmentally safe." But three months later, the Police Department announced that the canine unit would operate from four precinct houses throughout the county.

The canine unit now works out of the Woodlawn, Franklin, White Marsh and North Point precincts.

Relocating the canine unit to the four precincts has not resolved questions about where the department will permanently train the dogs.

Since the park's closure, training has taken place with other state agencies, including the state police and the Maryland Transportation Authority Police.

Cole B. Weston, president of the Baltimore County Fraternal Order of Police, said the county must do more than just buy additional dogs.

"We need to purchase these dogs, but we also need a training facility," he said.

Two kennel-like facilities, known as dog runs, are to be installed at each of the four precincts that now house the dogs, at a cost of about $125,000.

"We are still looking at a new training facility," county government spokeswoman Ellen Kobler said.

The county request for bids for the sale of police dogs requires that the animals have received training for police work.

The dogs must be male German shepherds about two years old, their health must be guaranteed for a year, and they must be free of hip dysplasia. The dogs must have been introduced to buildings and be able to work without being distracted by the surrounding environment.

The request for proposals also states that "Baltimore County will not accept any dog that has previously washed out of another entity's training program."

The contract also allows the county to go back to the vendor to buy additional dogs within the first year if necessary.

 

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