Former Columbia K-9 officer Max

Nine-year-old Max is Columbia Borough's previous K-9 officer, shown here in a December file photo.

Columbia Borough Mayor Leo Lutz said Monday the plan to have a new K-9 officer and handler in place by spring is "on hold."

His statement prompted outbursts from members of both council and the Columbia K-9 Committee, a nonprofit organization that defrays the cost of the borough's K-9 officer.

Mike Beury, council president, told Lutz that it was time to "tell the truth."

Based on statements made during the meeting, as well as emails, interviews and documents obtained by the Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era, it is clear that there is currently no K-9 officer.

Meanwhile, the borough has spent $7,175 on a training program and a dog that might not become part of the department.

The $7,175 was covered by the K-9 committee, which relies on donations. There has been no direct cost to the borough at this point.

The borough is responsible for paying a daily boarding fee to the training facility, North East Police K-9 Academy, where the dog, Pedro, is currently being boarded, borough manager Sam Sulkosky said.

The latest problems arose in reaction to officer Brent Keyser's decision to leave the handler training program and the manner in which that information, including the reason for his decision, was conveyed to council and the K-9 committee.

Lutz said the reason for the decision was personal, and based on Keyser's concern about having a dog trained to bite in his home.

Council vice president Barry Ford said that he spoke with Keyser last week, and that the mayor's statement about the reason for the officer's decision was incorrect.

Ford also questioned the length of time between the first officer leaving training, around Feb. 11, and the official notification of council on Monday night.

Council member Mary Barninger, who chairs the committee on public safety, said she knew of the matter prior to the meeting but "stumbled on it completely by happenstance" during a call to Columbia Borough police Chief Jack Brommer about another matter.

At that time, the situation was, she said, evolving.

Lutz said that it took some time because a second officer considered taking on the role of handler but was also concerned about having a dual-trained dog in his home.

Under heated questions from council and residents alike about the timing of communications and the way in which decisions were being made, Lutz appeared to lose his temper, countering that the K-9 program is a police program and, therefore, not officially the business of the council.

Council member Jim Smith said that Lutz had "drawn a line in the sand. I always felt you felt we don't exist."

Barninger brought the gavel down, literally, during the exchange between Lutz and Smith.

At Lutz's request, council approved funding the new K-9 officer and necessary training in December, after it was decided the borough’s K-9 officer, 9-year-old Max, would be retired.

At that time, council allocated about $14,000 for the purchase of a dual-trained dog that could be used in situations that required tracking as well as apprehension. The K-9 committee agreed to pay for the new dog.

The agreement between the borough and the K-9 Academy, signed Jan. 6, states: "For a total fee of $14,350, Seller agrees to provide to purchaser Dual Purpose Police Dog candidate suitable for training in Patrol and Narcotics Detection."

According to the agreement, the fee for a six-week training program for handlers "covers all necessary aspects of service dog and substance detection dog duties pertaining to law enforcement."

A 50 percent deposit was required in order to secure the dog and begin training. Training was scheduled to begin Feb. 3.

There is no specific language regarding the cost or placement of the dog, if no handler is willing or able to complete the training. Only a week of training was completed.

Lutz said there are two options available at this point: return the dog or broker a sale of the dog to another police department.

Sulkosky said selling the dog might be more beneficial. Returning it, he believes, would only give the borough credit toward a new dog.

Lutz said Brommer was actively reaching out to other police departments in an effort to place the dog.

All parties agreed on one thing: there cannot be a Columbia Police Department K-9 program without an officer serving as the K-9 officer's handler.

Brommer could not be immediately reached for comment on Tuesday.

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