CAPE CARTERET — The town will soon welcome the newest member to its police force: a German Shepherd named Draco.

The Cape Carteret Board of Commissioners voted 4-1 Monday to approve the introduction of a K-9 program for the town’s police department. Commissioner Mike King was the sole dissenter in the vote that took place during the commissioners’ regular monthly meeting in town hall off Dolphin Street.

Police Chief Bill McKinney appeared before the board to request approval of the K-9 program. He explained the relatively small town has experienced increasing drug problems recently, with a few large-scale busts, as well as numerous arrests for minor drug crimes.

“One thing I’ve learned is even though it’s a small town, there’s a lot of big problems,” he said. “…It’s no secret Cape Carteret, just like everywhere else, has had an increase in drug usage and drug activity throughout the last few years. There is a heroin epidemic, it’s nationwide, not just here.”

Chief McKinney said one of the department’s officers, Sgt. David Walden, was approved out of about 60 applicants to receive a donated German Shepherd puppy from the Sea Knight Kennel in Surf City. The chief said the kennel raises German Shepherds to be police or service dogs and they usually cost around $3,000.

Chief McKinney said Draco will be trained to sniff out drugs, including heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, crack cocaine and others. He will also be trained as a tracking dog to help find missing people or fugitives. However, the dog will not be trained to detect marijuana because of the rapidly changing issue of legalization.

“They are able to detect all types of narcotics, which will allow the department to find and seize and even get more drugs off the street utilizing the canine,” Chief McKinney said. “Draco would be trained in detection of all major drugs, excluding marijuana.”

Chief McKinney said some agencies across the country have had to retire their police dogs because they were trained to detect marijuana, which subsequently became legal. Also, marijuana containing THC, the psychoactive chemical that produces a high and is still illegal in North Carolina, is virtually indistinguishable from CBD, which is legal to possess and use in the state.

The department will have to fit a cage inside Sgt. Walden’s patrol vehicle for a cost around $4,100, though the chief is looking for a cheaper alternative, such as a used cage. The department will also have to pay for six months of training, but Chief McKinney personally knows a trainer, Creation K-9, based in Maysville, who is willing to do it for $200 per month, down from $500 a month. In addition, Dr. Michelle Cox with Island Pet Veterinary in Cape Carteret offered to provide free veterinary care and the Cape Carteret Petsense will donate dog food.

With a few other miscellaneous costs, the chief said approving the K-9 program is around a $6,000 initial investment. He seemed confident a lot of the money could be raised through fundraisers, such as No Shave November, and grants.

“I think we’ll have a lot of community support and I don’t think we’ll have any issue with fundraising,” Town Manager Zach Steffey said. “…We have this upfront cost, but the long-term cost, that could be something those calendar funds could be utilized for.”

Town Finance Officer Sandy Favreau added the police department is in line to receive some grants totaling around $7,600 that could be used to help pay some of the initial costs for the dog.

However, Mr. King said he feels the program seems unnecessary and the department is too small to have a K-9 unit. He also thinks it could get expensive, especially if Draco dies prematurely and the department needs to purchase and train another dog.

“I really question the need for a town this small having one of its patrol officers transporting a dog in the front seat of a car on patrol,” he said. “…I just don’t know in a small town like this that it’s appropriate.”

Mr. King proposed tabling the matter to allow residents time to give input on introducing a K-9 program, but the other commissioners supported the effort. With the majority approval, the department will soon  welcome Draco to the force and Sgt. Walden can begin training.    

Contact Elise Clouser at elise@thenewstimes.com; by phone at 252-726-7081 ext. 229; or follow on Twitter @eliseccnt.

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