BELLOWS FALLS -- The village's police department has gone to the dogs.
Officer Mario Checchi is the new handler of Caesar, a 12-month-old Belgian Malinois donated to the BFPD by the Vermont State Police Canine Association in September so the department would pursue a police canine program. Donations have recently come in from various individuals and organizations in the area to offset the costs associated with having a pooch on the squad.
BFPD Lt. Shane Harris told the Reformer Caesar will be used for narcotic detection and for tracking missing persons and wanted suspects. He said a dog's nose is astronomically stronger than that of a human.
"This is just one more tool you can add to your box to help out," he said. "The dog gives you the ability to see what can't be seen."
Harris explained Caesar can sniff for narcotics in a residence once a search warrant has been obtained and his keen senses can help officers develop probable cause for warrants on individuals under suspicion. The lieutenant also said Checchi, who was not on duty Friday, has expressed an interest in a police canine program since he joined the BFPD. Checchi has also been very pro-active in drug enforcement efforts in Bellows Falls, Harris said.
"He has certainly earned (his role as canine handler). He's highly energetic -- like the dog," Harris said with a slight laugh. "He's a machine."
Harris told the Reformer he has experience with police canines from previously working with the Vermont Drug Task Force and the Chester Police Department.
Some of the donations to the BFPD have included a cage and other equipment needed for Caesar to ride in a police cruiser. Harris said this was donated by the State Police. He said the police canines typically serve five years and the program will cost the department about $7,500. The Sterling House recently donated $100 to the BFPD, while Harris said the Rotary Club of Bellows Falls has committed to contributing $2,500 over the next five years. In addition, Muddy Paws Canine Center in Westminster has donated a year's worth of dog food, the Rockingham Veterinary Clinic in Chester has agreed to provide Caesar's annual examinations at a discount, and an extra $1,300 has been collected from various people and organizations.
Part of the costs associated with the K9 program include sending Checchi and Caesar to the state's canine academy in Pittsford.
Harris told the Reformer the department hopes to send the pair to a six-week drug detection school in January and then a 12-week human-tracking program, though he admitted that is "a lot to bite off and chew."
According to the BFPD, Caesar will also be used to provide demonstrations and to interact with the community.
Anyone who wants to contribute to the canine program can donate to the Bellows Falls Police Department, c/o K9 Program, 170 Rockingham Street, Bellows Falls, VT 05101 or call Harris at 802-463-1234.
Domenic Poli can be reached at email@example.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.