Police agency to grow by two

The Laguna Beach Police Department will add a K-9 and a human officer after a unanimous City Council vote during a budget meeting Tuesday.

A few residents voiced support for adding a police dog, which the city hasn't had since a German shepherd named Max retired for medical reasons in November 2003 after serving for seven years, a city staff report said.

The program was discontinued for economic and other reasons, Capt. Jason Kravetz said in February.

Planning Commissioner Anne Johnson supported both additions.

"Real or perceived, we feel there's been a great increase in the number of homeless in town and especially more violent homeless," said Johnson, who is also a member of the Woman's Club of Laguna Beach. "Some said that may be attributed to the infiltration of meth addicts. Second, there's a general perception around town, and especially among women, that this town is not as safe as it used to be."

Some members of the council have indicated over the past year a desire to add another officer to help address homelessness, improve communications with businesses and boost patrols, the city staff report said.

The city will pay $10,000 for equipment for its 48th sworn officer — two more than the department had in the 2012-13 fiscal year — and $120,000 a year for salary and benefits, city finance Director Gavin Curran wrote in an email.

The one-time costs for the K-9 include $60,000 to buy a new police vehicle, $9,000 for the dog and $4,200 for a training course, according to a memo from Police Chief Paul Workman.

In the first year, the officer chosen to work with the K-9 will need to complete 240 hours of basic training followed in the second year by 200 hours at a narcotics detection course.

But the Woman's Club volunteered to raise $20,000 to help cover the cost of acquiring the K-9, with the rest to go toward the next dog, board member Cheryl Kinsman told the council.

Ongoing costs for the K-9 include $20,000 per year for vehicle maintenance, and the loss of the police officer assigned to the K-9 for about 10 to 12 hours a week for training, according to the staff report.

K-9s help police in several ways, including finding missing people, searching for narcotics and catching fleeing suspects, the memo said.

A police dog can also be a deterrent to crime or bad behavior, the memo said.

"Hostile, intoxicated or mentally impaired persons threatening the public or officers are often forced to back down by the presence of the dog," according to the memo.

Part of the new officer's time will be covering for the K-9 officer when he or she has dog-related responsibilities, such as training, City Manager John Pietig wrote in an email.

Workman said in the memo he might add a full-time bicycle patrol officer downtown to cover a broader area more quickly than an officer on foot, if staffing levels permit.

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