Langford orders police to end use of K-9s indefinitely

ATLANTIC CITY - The Langford administration ordered major changes to the city's Police Department on Monday that could save city money, quell resident complaints and, at the same time, possibly put the public's safety at risk.

Business Administrator Michael Scott ordered Police Chief John J. Mooney to indefinitely cease the use of police canines and prohibit officers, along with other resort officials, from bringing their city-issued vehicles home.

The orders are part of two separate goals of Mayor Lorenzo Langford: Saving taxpayer money through limiting the use of all city-owned cars and responding to local criticism of the use of police dogs and alleged abuse of their tactics.

But Mooney said the directives are solely an attempt to politically attack him and his department. He said Monday he plans to sue the city, claiming the mayor does not have the authority to interfere with the department's daily operation.

"The Police Department is being targeted by the administration," Mooney said. "I think it's political in nature and clearly directed at me."

Since Langford won the Democratic primary in June, historically tantamount to a general election in the city, he has pushed for greater power over city police, a department he has had a volatile relationship with in the past. Most notably, Langford is pressing City Council to re-create a public safety director position with authority over police and fire chiefs.

"People have lost a great deal of confidence in our Police Department," said Kevin Hall, Langford's spokesman. "We're trying to let the citizenry know that someone has been hearing them."

Last month, Langford issued an order through his business administrator to cease the use of the department's K-9 Unit until the administration could review complaints pertaining to how the dogs are handled. Atlantic County Prosecutor Ted Housel sent a letter to the administration asking that the order only restrict dogs used with apprehension, emphasizing the importance of canines that detect narcotics and explosives.

Hall said Monday that the administration complied with that request. However, Mooney said he decided that if some dogs are taken off the street, none of them will be used.

"My training people tell me that if the dogs can't be used to their full potential, they shouldn't be used at all," the chief said, adding that the detecting canines also are trained in apprehension. "They've been trained to react in a certain way, and now they have a tool that they can't use."

But Hall said the dogs' reactions during apprehensions have been resulting in daily complaints to the Mayor's Office. With his initial directive last month, Business Administrator Scott also requested a report on police brutality from the city's Internal Affairs Division, including complaints regarding canines. The report has still not been received, but Hall said the mayor expects it Thursday.

Housel said his office would review Monday's decisions regarding the use of police canines.

The administration's order to restrict city vehicles from going to the homes of the officials that use them was first mentioned on the campaign trail this past spring. Hall said that studies conducted by the administration show the city could save between $50,000 and $100,000 by keeping them in city lots overnight.

Hall added that some officials will be given permission to have take-home cars, but that would be determined on a case-by-case basis. Police officials, who are arguably affected the most by the decision, are required to park their vehicles at the city's Public Works building, located along the Black Horse Pike.

Mooney said that his city-issued vehicle, four vehicles assigned to the deputy police chiefs and some undercover cars are not required to be parked in the city lot, but the others could endanger residents in an emergency. Mooney offered a scenario with an off-duty officer called to respond to an emergency, forced to drive in his own car to the city parking lot, obeying all traffic laws and eventually responding to a scene after reaching his police cruiser.

No comments: