By Barbara Tetreault

BERLIN — A swearing-in ceremony was held Tuesday afternoon for the newest member of the Berlin police department. Two-year old Kodiak and his handler, Officer Dennis Gale, are the department’s first ever K-9 unit.

In a briefing to the city council Monday night, Police Chief Peter Morency and Deputy Chief Dan Buteau explained that once trained, the K-9 will assist in search and rescue, drug enforcement and routine patrols. Morency stressed the addition of the K-9 unit comes at no extra cost to taxpayers and will be a major benefit to policing.

“He’s going to be a huge community asset,” the chief said.

The reaction from the mayor and city council was enthusiastic, with the body voting unanimously in support.

“I’m behind it 100 percent,” said Mayor Paul Grenier.

Councilor Mark Eastman said he thought the chief had done a good job adding a K-9 to the force without costing taxpayers.

Morency said Police Officer Gale and his wife Christina own and operate Gale Force Kennel in Milan and are donating to the department the AKA registered Belgian Malinois that they raised. He said Gale has some experience handling dogs from his service in the U.S. Marine Corp before joining the Berlin police force approximately two years ago.

The dog, named Kodiak, will live with the Gales and Dennis will train as his handler. The pair will go to the Vermont Police Academy for a 14-week program to get both certified. That will be followed by a 6-week course on drug interdiction. Then Hillsboro Police Sgt. Nickolas Hodgon, a K-9 officer with his department, will provide some additional training. Eventually other officers may also train as handlers but the department will start with Gale as the primary handler.

By this fall, residents can expect to see Kodiak regularly on patrol with Officer Gale.

In addition to the cost of training, there is also the cost of equipment including outfitting one of the older cruisers to safely transport the dog. Morency said he will cover those costs with money from the drug forfeiture fund, a $5,000 donation from Jericho Power LLC, and money already in his budget. After the first couple of years, Morency said the annual cost should be around $2,000 to cover food and veterinarian bills.

The chief said there have been about six missing person cases over the past two years where a K-9 in Berlin would have been invaluable. N.H. Fish and Game has a K-9 dog in Errol for search and rescue but that serves a wide region and is frequently in use for mountain rescues. Morency also sees the K-9 as an important tool to combat the opiod crisis. While public attention has shifted to COVID-19, Morency said the city still has a major drug problem.

Councilor Mike Rozek asked if the K-9 can be used in active shooter situations and Morency said its training will encompass those types of situation. Training will include tracking missing or fleeing people, locating people concealed in buildings, locating evidence of crimes, and detection of narcotics.

Grenier asked if the city will be reimbursed for its expenses if other police departments request the services of Kodiak and Gale. Hodgon suggested one way to recover costs is to seek restitution on drug cases through the court.

Belgian Malinois are frequently used for police work because of their intelligence, energy levels, sense of smell and ease of training. The U.S. Secret Service uses Belgian Malinois to guard the grounds of the White House. Kodiak’s brother Ozzy is a K-9 with the Colchester, Vermont police department.

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