Retiring Cambridge K9 officer petitions to keep his dog

When Cambridge Police Officer Peter Neal retires next month, he wants his police dog partner of the last three years, Rumba, to retire and come home with him. The Cambridge Police Department has other plans for the crime-fighting canine, saying Rumba is a community asset and still has many years of service left in him.

An online petition from Neal’s family to allow him to buy the four-year-old bomb detecting dog from the police department has garnered more than 2,200 signatures in the last month.

“This is a tough one because obviously no one wants to separate a man and his dog,” said City Councilor Jan Devereux.

On Monday night, city councilors passed an order to have City Manager Louis DePasquale and acting Police Commissioner Christopher Burke come before the council to discuss the police dog policy, any changes that can be made to prevent this situation in the future and what the options are for Neal and Rumba.

According to the family’s online petition, Neal has been a bomb technician in the Cambridge Police Department for the last six years and has had Rumba assigned as his canine partner for the last three.

“They have spent almost every day together for the past three years and have created a special bond with one another. It is truly something you have to see to believe,” the petition states.

According to the petition, Neal has offered to pay whatever expenses the city would incur in purchasing a new bomb dog, but has been repeatedly denied by the department. The Neal family declined to comment for this story.

According to Cambridge Police spokesman Jeremy Warnick, Rumba is just now entering his “prime years of service.”

“When and if a bomb technician from the Explosive Ordnance Unit retires or is promoted outside of the unit, it is department protocol for their assigned explosive detection canine to be transferred to another handler if he or she remains serviceable to the community that it protects,” said Warnick, who cited Boston Police, State Police and MBTA Transit Police as having similar policies.

“If the police department has already denied the request…then I feel like there needs to be a clear policy known up front, so when officers are assigned to work with K9s it’s understood from the beginning what happens when an officer retires,” Devereux said.

“I’m hoping the city manager and the acting police commissioner look at a policy that in the future, it would be a younger patrol officer that would be assigned to handle the future dogs,” said City Councilor Tim Toomey.

In January of 2014 the department created the Explosive Ordnance Unit, which consists of five bomb technicians and five explosive detection canines. Warnick said all five of the dogs in the unit are four years old and receive extensive training on a consistent basis.

“While it would be ideal for a retired officer and their assigned dog to retire together, there are a number of factors why the explosive detection canines would remain on the department,” Warnick said.

City officials hope to find a resolution to the issue soon, before another retiring officer finds himself in a similar situation. 

“I believe there’s another officer in the same predicament that’s going out in a couple months too with another police dog so this will be before us again pretty soon,” Toomey said.

Warnick said while it’s in the best interest of the department for Rumba to stay on the force, there are still opportunities for officers and their canines to spend time together post-retirement. 

“It is understandable that this may be a difficult transition for an officer, who likely has formed a unique relationship and bond on and off the job with their assigned explosive detection canine,” he said. “However, during this transition and over the long-term, they will be given ample opportunities to maintain a relationship with their former partner through the department and new handler.”

“It’s one of those stories that really tugs at you there’s no question about that,” Toomey said.

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