NEW ULM The New Ulm Police Department (NUPD) is considering cutting its K9 unit in response to budget constraints.
NUPD Chief Myron Wieland said nothing has been officially determined. The proposed cut will have its benefits and costs seriously considered during the next two weeks before making a final determination.
NUPD must find $30,000 in cuts as part of the 2013 City budget. Many other city departments also have budget cuts goals to meet. The budget cut targets allowed property taxes to only increase 4.19 percent for 2013 and less than 1 percent last year despite declines in state funding for programs like Local Government Aid.
Wieland estimated that cutting the K9 unit covers approximately a third of the $30,000 in cuts by avoiding several upcoming expenses. The K9 unit has minimal operating expenses, but it has other costs. The most significant is spending $6,500 to replace the current K9 patrol car. The project would require removing the specialized equipment, like a custom platform for the dog to sit on and climate control equipment, from the old squad car and installing it in a new patrol car.
The K9 unit was started in the early 2000s. The current K9 unit consists of Officer Brady Murphy and Juneau, a German Shepherd. Juneau replaced the first K9 unit of Thunder and Investigator Jeremy Reed. Thunder served until he was retired two years ago, and he has since died.
The unit has been primarily funded through the Police Department budget and numerous donations from area residents and businesses, including The Yellow Ribbon Society, New Ulm Police Reserves, Wal-Mart and Runnings Farm and Fleet.
Wieland said the dog can perform numerous specialized operations that officers cannot, including detecting drugs and locating a suspect in a building that would otherwise take five police officers to properly sweep.
Wieland said he is interested in trying to find a way to keep the K9 unit.
"The decision is on economics," said Wieland, "But, the animal is a beautiful representation of the department. It's very unique to have [a K9 unit] compared to many cities."
City Manager Brian Gramentz said that if the decision is made to keep the K9 unit, it will likely only be funded by adjusting funds within the NUPD budget and finding elsewhere to cut. He said the decision would depend on what is best for the department.
If the K9 unit is cut, it would likely be gone for a long time. The cost of a new dog, the required 13 weeks of training and specialized equipment would cost several thousands dollars to re-establish to unit.
"That's why we are taking time and thinking very carefully about our options. Either way will have a lot of implication to the department and its future budgeting," said Gramentz.
If the unit is retired, Juneau will be declared surplus property, because the dog is currently city property, and given over to his handler. The officer would be reassigned in the police department.
Gramentz expects a final decision in the next few weeks.
(Josh Moniz can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org)