Essex County Sheriff’s office orders K-9 unit to disband by 2020

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Some officers say the Essex County Sheriff’s office is lashing out against handlers when it announced that the K-9 unit is being disbanded at the end of the year.

Joe the Bloodhound, Yankee and Hanner are three of the five dogs that make up the Essex County K-9 Unit. On Dec. 31, they’ll be relieved of their badges and their handlers will be reassigned.

The notice about the disbandment went out earlier in the week from longtime Sheriff Armondo Fonturo’s office.

What handlers are most upset about is the wording of the order and its implications for its retired canines. The order says, “In doing so, the canine handler may either choose to have the animal put down by a licensed veterinarian, or to take full personal possession and care of the canine at the handler's expense."

Officers say they feel Sheriff Fonturo is doing this as retaliation over a lawsuit handlers filed against the department.

The handlers are provided food and medical needs for the dogs since they are with the animals 24/7. However, they are suing the county for money to care for the dogs while off duty. 

“The canine handlers are completely appalled,” says attorney Valerie Palma DeLuisi. “This is retaliatory because a lawsuit was filed against the county. And there's no excuse for this level of cruelty."
           
Palma DeLuisi adds that the handlers are willing to drop the lawsuit with the county and all future lawsuits for a $5,000 per canine per year stipend. 

However, a spokesperson for the sheriff says this a decision to save money and that the dogs are, "absolutely not," going to be euthanized and that, “we would never euthanize dogs."

The county also says after the disbandment it plans to call on a neighboring county when canines are needed.

PBA president Robert Slater says this is hard to believe. He says two-thirds of all crime in the state is in Essex County.  "We answer over 1,000 calls for service per year,” says Slater. “In this day and age with terrorism and active shooters I can't understand why the county of Essex would reduce a force we need."

Officers say they are also upset because county officials have previously boasted about a budget surplus. 

If the order isn't rescinded, handlers say none of them will be handing over their dogs. 

 

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