Mayor Daryl Finizio announced Thursday that he has vetoed an ordinance passed by the City Council establishing a minimum number of K-9s in the New London Police Department.
Finizio said he based the decision on a number of different factors. These include Law Director Jeffrey Londregan’s opinion that the ordinance interferes with the duties of the mayor’s office, the estimated costs of the program, and the effect of the ordinance on collective bargaining with the New London Police Union.
In signing the veto, Finizio also said he will commit to supporting language in the new police contract setting a two dog minimum in the K-9 program. The Council ordinance sets a minimum of four dogs.
“Although I maintain the view that even these resources could be better used on other law enforcement needs, I believe that the views of the Council and the union should be respected in an attempt to reach a reasonable compromise and allow the city to move beyond this debate,” Finizio said. “This ongoing debate is consuming far too much of our time and doing public harm to our police department. I believe the reasonable steps I propose to maintain and expand a K-9 unit in our police department are the most responsible ways to move us forward.”
Londregan’s opinion states that the ordinance infringes upon the mayor’s authority by giving an order to Police Chief Margaret Ackley, a member of Finizio’s administration. He said the ordinance seeks to dictate to Ackley what assets it should retain under its allocated budget.
Finizio states in his veto that there have been conflicting definitions of K-9s in discussions on the ordinance, with dogs defined as both officers and NLPD property. He said the Council would have legal authority to act under the City Charter if the dogs were defined as officers, but that the union contract lists the dogs as assets rather than officers.
Finizio also criticized the ordinance as attempting to micromanage the department, citing an amendment to the ordinance outlining what purposes the dogs would be used for.
“This is clearly an impermissible intrusion on the proper authority of the police administration, made without any rational evidence presented by neutral sources justifying the decision,” he said.
Finizio contended that a program with four dogs would incur costs exceeding $500,000 and would place “a significant financial burden on our police department at a time when the administration has determined there are more important financial needs in the department as opposed to enhancing our K-9 unit.” He also said the ordinance also allows the union to sidestep the collective bargaining process by appealing to the Council, and that union president Todd Lynch would directly benefit as the NLPD’s K-9 trainer.
“The K-9 unit is part of the union contract and is subject of ongoing collective bargaining,” said Finizio. “This effort by the union represents a severe breach of collective bargaining protocol.”
In prior discussions, Finizio has expressed concerns over the use of biting patrol dogs and statistics showing the majority of dog bite victims are minorities. He recommended that the department’s K-9s focus primarily on body tracking and recovery as well as locating drugs and explosives.
Along with his objections, Finizio presented memorandums from Deputy Police Chief Peter Reichard and Chief Administrative Officer Jane Glover. Reichard said increasing the program to four dogs would incur a number of expenses, including the purchase of new vehicles to replace the aging canine take-home vehicles, the training of new handlers, and overtime to cover shift openings while officers are being trained.
Reichard said a canine program is effective if used properly and that having a program within the department avoids union grievances and the need to rely on mutual aid compacts. However, Reichard said the limited number of K-9 deployments and the cost to maintain an enhanced program suggests that the department should focus on improvements that will benefit a greater number of officers, including electrostatic guns and infrared technology.
“Based on the current level of crime within the city of New London and crime trends that are documented by this agency, a canine unit enhanced to include four working dogs would not be advisable at the present time,” said Reichard. “The effects of recent budget cuts that have resulted in reduced staffing levels are evident within the patrol division of this department. The enhancement of this unit at the present time will cause a deeper strain on the agency at both financial and personnel levels.”
Glover recommended that Finizio veto the ordinance based on Londregan’s opinion as well as collective bargaining concerns.
“For the City Council to establish an ordinance that directly affects an issue that is collectively bargained undermines my authority as chief administrative officer during a time when we are in contract negotiations,” said Glover. “Further, approving this ordinance would adversely affect the city’s ability to collectively bargain with any union going forward, as the same interference could occur with other bargaining units.”
The Council vote on the ordinance came after the police union raised concerns on the number of dogs in the K-9 program. One patrol dog was sold to its handler last year after the officer resigned from the force. A bloodhound, Bessie, has been boarded after the departure of her handler from the department and another patrol dog, Buck, was retired due to arthritis.
The union criticized the cost of boarding of Bessie. It also recommended that Buck be returned to service, saying the dog has been medically cleared for further work and that fundraisers have covered the cost of his medication.
Supporters also advocated for the K-9 program as a way of improving public safety and protecting officers.
The Council unanimously passed a resolution supporting the K-9 program on July 1 after an attempt to pass an ordinance failed in a 3-3 tie. In response, Finizio said Bessie would be restored to the department but that he considered Buck’s retirement to be final.
The Council passed an ordinance, requiring the NLPD to “maintain a recognized and distinguished K-9 patrol division within the department” with costs to be borne within the department budget, on Aug. 5.
Although Council President Pro Tempore Wade Hyslop and Councilor Donald Macrino expressed some concerns with the program and the legality of the ordinance, the vote on the ordinance was unanimous. A Council override of a mayoral veto requires a six-sevenths majority to pass.