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Outside group raising money for a Concord K-9, as police department says it has other priorities

A nonprofit group is throwing a party at White Park this spring to help resuscitate Concord’s police dog program, which city budget-cutters axed in 2006.

“The idea, really, is to have a terrific afternoon, to bring people outside and to establish an annual event that is dedicated to raising funds for a future K-9 program for the Concord Police Department,” said Kim Murdoch, board chairwoman of the Concord Public Safety Foundation, which is organizing “Bark in the Park: Canines for K-9” on May 11.

The police department said it appreciates the foundation’s efforts – even though, Chief John Duval said yesterday, a police dog program isn’t at the top of his wish list.

“There are things, as we approach the next budget season, that I’m focusing on in terms of what our needs are,” Duval said. “There are some staff positions that I’m looking to recoup from previous years, and those are my priorities right now.”

Concord used to have a police dog, a German shepherd named Bonz. But the program was cut in 2006, a move the city said would save $10,400 that year.

Now, when city officers require the services of a police dog, Duval said they request the services of a state-police dog or a dog from a neighboring town. That’s happened several times in the last few months, he said.

The police have been getting some extra money in recent years. The department’s budget of nearly $10.2 million this year is up 1.6 percent from fiscal 2012, when the department’s budget rose 4.7 percent from the year before.

But Duval said he’s focused on adding staff, not resurrecting the K-9 program. He said he hopes to increase a part-time dispatcher position to full time and add a part-time records employee in the 2014 fiscal year, which begins July 1; that budget will be finalized by the city council in June.

“That’s where my focus is going to be,” Duval said.

That’s where the foundation comes in, Murdoch said, since it was established in 2011 to raise money for projects that otherwise wouldn’t be funded at the city police and fire departments. For example, she said, the foundation this year organized a fire-truck-pulling competition during Market Days and donated the proceeds to the fire department so it could purchase a hands-free CPR machine.

Helping fund a K-9 program for the police department, Murdoch said, “is something that we’ve been talking about with various levels of police department leadership for several years now. . . . It was identified as a need that didn’t have either existing federal grant opportunities” or the prospect of funding by the city council.

So, the group is organizing the May 11 event at White Park. Murdoch said it’ll run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and will be free for the public, with entertainment, educational kiosks and food for both canines and humans.

“We encourage people to join their dogs,” she said. “ It is going to be a really fun, family-friendly event.”

Money, she said, will be raised from vendor fees, sponsorships, donations and entry fees for dog competitions.

Even if he’s not pushing for one in the next city budget, Duval said a K-9 program can be a valuable tool, “depending on what kind of program you embrace.” By acquiring two dogs instead of just one, he said, “you have coverage, if not 24/7, you have it two-thirds of the time. . . . Time is of the essence when you have a call that needs a K-9.”

(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or bleubsdorf@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)

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