HAZLETON — The next time city police Cpl. Kirk Wetzel’s partner is sitting in their patrol unit and Wetzel needs backup on the street, all he’ll have to do is push a button and help will be there within seconds.
City officials on Tuesday accepted delivery of the police department’s new K-9 unit, complete with a remote-control dog deployment door.
The city used about $9,500 in federal drug seizure funds to outfit the police department’s 2007 Dodge Durango with a new engine, drive train, color scheme and a state-of-the-art K-9 cage and deployment system, said police Chief Frank DeAndrea during a demonstration Tuesday outside City Hall.
“Today’s a very proud day for me and the department,” DeAndrea said.
Mayor Joe Yannuzzi said a new K-9 vehicle was needed because the department is bringing another K-9 onto the force. The new K-9 and his handler will temporarily use the former K-9 unit, a Ford Crown Victoria, until another SUV can be re-outfitted.
“They’re a great deterrent and they’re the best asset to have,” Wetzel said of police dogs. “And the cost to put a dog on the street is a lot less expensive than a patrolman.”
Wetzel and his partner of eight years, K-9 Griz, demonstrated the remote-control door opener, noted the dog cage is designed to keep the K-9 safe and that the rear of the SUV has a separate air conditioning unit.
“That’s the main thing. You want to make sure the dog is safe and comfortable,” he said.
DeAndrea said that the unit has the department’s new blue-and-gold color scheme to match five other marked patrol units and two unmarked vehicles.
“In trying to figure out ways to change the community’s views of the police department and bring half of a community that doesn’t even trust police from a third world country into this, is to say, you know what, we need a new image,” the chief said.
DeAndrea said every member of the police department voted on a new color scheme and decided to get away from black-and-white and go with the color of the Hazleton Police Department patch — blue and gold. New police dress uniforms will be unveiled at a police memorial ceremony in May, he said.
DeAndrea said the department’s second K-9, Echo, is about to graduate and will be a patrol unit member handled by Patrolman George Schaffer.
“You’re going to see our K-9s on Broad Street, on Wyoming Street, on Alter Street. The mayor and his initiative, the downtown revitalization, is so important to this city. We have investors spending millions of dollars to revitalize downtown and so the police department is stepping up and we’re taking part in that initiative,” DeAndrea said.
“Besides that, you might feel you can run and get away from me, but you’ll think twice when the dog is walking foot patrol on Broad Street. There’s a lot to look forward to coming up in the city and I’m excited that this is part of it,” DeAndrea said.