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New London police dog order might lose its bite

By David Collins

Publication: The Day

Published November 15. 2013 4:00AM

If I were a betting person I would guess that the odds are pretty good that New London will not any time soon be getting the four police dogs mandated by an ordinance passed by the City Council over the summer.

For the record, Mayor Daryl Finizio, when I caught up with him this week, said he is prepared to continue ramping up the K-9 unit from its present two dogs to the council-mandated four dogs.

But - and this is a very big "but" - there will be a new council after this month's election. And Finizio says he is prepared to follow the wishes of the new councilors when it comes to the number of police dogs.

"If members of the new council come to me and say we would rather spend resources on vehicles or rehiring officers, then I will always listen to their will and input ..." he said. "We are going to work with the new council and new priorities."

Perhaps no single issue will better illustrate the change in government in New London that will result from this month's voting than police dog policy.

The last council voted overwhelmingly in support of a noisy police union campaign last summer to increase the size of the dog unit - run by the police union president, who is also suing the city - from one dog to four.

The mayor's solid arguments, from statistical evidence that the police dogs more often bite minorities to the cost of increasing the program scope, fell on deaf ears at the council.

Councilors also did not seem impressed by the fact that the number of police dogs is part of ongoing contract talks between the administration and police union. In other words, they were meddling.

In the end, the council voted 6-0 (Councilor Wade Hyslop was out of town) to override the mayor's veto of the original ordinance mandating four police dogs.

The mayor has in his back pocket an opinion from the city law director that the council does not have the authority to dictate such particulars as how many police dogs the city has.

The mayor chose, though, not to have a constitutional fight and said after the council's veto override that he would abide by the council's wishes.

Maybe he had a good sense then that the council and its wishes were about to change.

Some councilors were openly critical during the election campaign of the decision to increase the size of the dog unit.

Erica Richardson, part of a new majority of minorities on the council, was especially vocal about the statistics showing the dogs much more often bite minorities.

Richardson, a single mom, said she was also offended that the last council agreed to an expensive expansion of the police dog program right after it denied a request for a new schools expenditure.

Probably the best indicator of the way the council has turned on police union issues is the lack of success of union-endorsed candidates in this month's voting.

The only two candidates endorsed by the union to win seats in the last election were Michael Passero, a city union firefighter who served as president of the last council, and Martin Olsen, the only Republican to win a seat on the new council.

A dog expansion could certainly win again in another council vote. But it seems very unlikely a mayoral veto could be overridden a second time.

In fact, given the nice things the mayor had to say this week about the new council - "I have had more conversations with councilors this week than the whole last year," he said - I suspect the mayor figures he may be able to keep his veto pen in his pocket.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

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