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LOCKPORT – As Lockport residents began to circulate petitions urging the city to maintain a police dog, Police Chief Lawrence M. Eggert told the Common Council Wednesday that it can have a K-9 officer and still keep the savings resulting from the former officer’s recent retirement.

Council President Joseph C. Kibler said the Police Board, on which he serves, already has chosen a new K-9 officer. “We made a recommendation, but we haven’t informed anybody yet,” he said.

Eggert said two officers were considered; one works on the day shift and the other at night. The appointee will stay on his shift and will have to be paid overtime when he is called in to handle a case on the other shift. The Lockport police have two 12-hour shifts per day.

But Eggert said by not increasing the size of the Police Department, the city will maintain an important service and save about $100,000 a year in salary and benefits.

The veteran K-9 officer, Steven Ritchie, retired June 2. With the retirement earlier this year of another patrolman, Joseph Brown, the police roster stands at 43 officers, two below its authorized strength. Eggert said he doesn’t expect to be allowed to fill those vacancies, given the city financial crisis.

Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey said the city has yet to commit to maintaining the K-9 service, but she said, “There’s great value in that service.”

Eggert said it would cost the city $4,000 to $6,000 to obtain and train a new dog, since Ritchie took his dog with him into retirement. The dog lives with the officer and in effect becomes a member of his family.

Eggert said the Police Board interviewed not only the interested officers, but also their families and even their neighbors, to make sure the police dog would be a good fit and “make sure they’re willing to commit.”

Kibler said neither candidate lives within the city limits. “The guy the Police Board chose says he can get into the city in 15 minutes,” Kibler said.

Eggert said the dog can be used for searches for drugs, school contraband, looking for evidence in stopped cars and for tracking suspects.

“It does things we can’t do. It can run faster than we can. It can smell better than we can,” Eggert said.

But the dog also is good for public relations. “Even if they hate the cops, they like the dog,” Eggert said. “We want the dog to go into schools and be something the kids can play with.”

Criminals are impressed by dogs, too.

Eggert told the Council that he once tried to stop a knife fight between two men over 10 pounds of marijuana. They didn’t bat an eye when Eggert pointed his gun at them, but when the police dog showed up, the thugs stopped stabbing each other and put their hands up.

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com