PAWTUCKET—The Police Department’s rookie officer was panting heavily and nervously shaking his leg as the mayor swore him in at City Hall in front of a crowd of city officials and the news media.
Yet, Col. James Mendonca assured everyone present that Officer Axel could maneuver through tight areas and run faster than anyone else on the force. “Beware the criminal who runs from him,” he warned.
Officer Axel is a 7-year-old Belgium Malinois who, along with his handler, Officer Joseph DeCristoforo, makes up the Central Falls Police Department’s new K-9 unit. The program, which the Police Department had about 15 years ago but disbanded, has been reestablished thanks to the efforts of volunteers and donations from Navigant Credit Union, Dexter Credit Union and the Wyatt Detention Facility.
Mendonca spoke of the benefits of having a K-9 program, noting that canine officers have the speed and agility to go many places where their human counterparts can’t. He also noted that a police dog makes a good impression from the community policing standpoint, and are always welcome visitors at senior centers, schools and other public events.
Mendonca said there have been numerous attempts over the past several years to implement the K-9 program, but a combination of timing and financial constraints made it difficult to come to fruition. Recent word of a trained canine from the Newport Police Department being in need of a new home prompted police administrators to look again for a way to make the program happen.
Dexter Credit Union and Navigant Credit Union stepped forward, each with donations of $2,500 to assist with start-up costs, and the Wyatt Detention Facility also donated $500. The start-up was used primarily to provide additional training, as well as equipment and the outfitting of a police cruiser with a specialized “crate” in the rear for the canine officer to ride in.
“This ambitious initiative is just another means to further enhance our agencies’ commitment by aiding in our mission to safeguard the general welfare and enrich the quality of life of the residents of Central Falls,” said Mendonca.
Mayor James Diossa said, “The city of Central Falls will be safer because of the establishment of our K-9 unit. Axel’s unique set of skills will make him an asset to keeping our streets, residents, and his fellow police officers safer every night.”
In addition to working patrol, the K-9 unit will be deployed for specific incidents where having a canine is advantageous, such as crowd control, building and vehicle searches, fleeing suspects, barricaded subjects and missing persons, according to Mendonca.
Axel was symbolically sworn in to the rank of officer, where he will join DeCristoforo on patrol. When off-duty, Axel will reside with DeCristoforo, who has owned numerous dogs and said he is comfortable sharing his cruiser with this feisty male.
Mendonca noted that DeCristoforo and Axel went through a rigorous K-9 unit training course with the Rhode Island State Police. Axel had received training previously and had provided assistance to the Newport Police Department before it disbanded its K-9 unit, he said.
The chief added that he would like to see the program expanded to include additional canines, but wants to see how this partnership goes, as well as the financial impact going forward.