BY ANGELJEAN CHIARAMIDA
---- — SALISBURY — With a significant increase in activity in over the past 12 months, the Salisbury Police Department is bringing on a new officer: the four-legged kind, and his name is Herc.
According to Salisbury police Chief Thomas Fowler, the department received a $25,000 grant from a private state organization to acquire the dog, as well as its training and that of its handler, officer Richard Dellaria. Intended to be a patrol dog, if he performs those duties well during his first year, Herc may be cross-trained as a drug dog, Fowler said.
Dellaria is currently coming to the end of 14-weeks of training at the Boston Police K-9 Academy, Fowler said, with a graduation date of Jan. 3. The hope is Salisbury’s first K-9 unit in years will be on patrol soon.
Dellaria will care for the dog 24/7, Fowler said, both when he’s on duty and off. Officer and dog will work the 7 p.m. to 3 a.m. shift, Fowler said, because after analysis that’s when the department believes Herc will be utilized the most. They’ll work a four-day work week on duty, Fowler said, and be on-call when off-duty.
Currently, among the region’s police departments, only Amesbury has a K-9 team working, which includes officer Thomas Nichols, and his dog Kaybar. Seabrook had a K-9 team, but recently that team was disbanded.
Although both the Essex County Sheriff’s Office and the State Police have K-9 police units, Fowler said, through mutual aid, it has been Nichols and Kaybar who have come to Salisbury’s aid when the skills of a well trained K-9 officer was needed. Fowler hopes to pay that service forward by helping other departments when asked by sending Dellaria and Herc through mutual aid.
But Herc is also intended to be an ambassador of sorts for the Salisbury Police Department and will do his share of good works.
“It’s very important for me, as chief, that this dog makes community service calls as well, like in school and with the elderly,” Fowler said. “It’s not going to be a vicious dog.”
Fowler announced the news of the addition to the department at a recent Board of Selectmen meeting, and although most selectmen appeared pleased to hear of Herc’s pending arrival, Selectman Ed Hunt was not.
“I’m not a great fan of Salisbury having a K-9,” Hunt said, suggesting Fowler could utilize existing K-9 units at the Essex County Sheriff’s Office or State Police.
Hunt asked how much Herc would add to the budget after the $25,000 grant was utilized. Fowler didn’t have those numbers available at the meeting, but said he would soon.
In years past, Salisbury had a K-9 police team, but the unit was disbanded when the dog retired.
At the meeting, Fowler presented statistics on the increase in department activity this year. Fowler said the total number of incidents police responded to this year were up 18 percent, from 781 in 2012 to 921 in 2013.
That breaks down to a 22 percent increase in arrests, from 320 last year up to 391 this year, and a 31 percent increase in the number of summonses issued, from 344 to 450. Accidents were up 7 percent, and there was a nearly 24 percent rise in medical calls, from 547 up to 676. All of which take officers’ time, Fowler said, when there’s usually only two to three officers on duty each shift.
Residents will soon see the two new police Ford Explorer cruisers approved at Fall Town Meeting. They’re expected to be on the road after the first of the new year, Fowler said.