Wilkes-Barre gets good news in K9 assessment, training still unresolved

Wampole –

Chase –

WILKES-BARRE — The next move is up to the city in its ongoing effort to reactivate the Wilkes-Barre Police Department’s two K9 dogs.

The city received good news from an assessment last month at the Penn Vet Working Dog Center in Philadelphia, said city Administrator Ted Wampole.

The pairing of Skoty with his new partner Officer Daniel Roper appears to be a good fit and “at this point” retiring the Belgian Malinois isn’t being considered, Wampole said Tuesday.

Officer Joseph Homza and Chase, another Belgian Malinois, need additional work together. But it’s expected due to their nearly six-month layoff, Wampole explained.

“They recommend that Homza and Chase be recertified because they’ve been out of operational status for awhile,” Wampole said.

The recertification would take place where the officer and dog are going to be trained, Wampole added.

But that decision hasn’t been made. The city has to look at the center’s fee schedule and decide whether to send the dogs and officers there.

Training has been an issue for the K9 units since the dogs, purchased with donations and the proceeds of fundraisers held by the Wilkes-Barre Crime Watch Coalition, joined the department approximately two years ago.

Last year, a local trainer stopped working with the city due to scheduling conflicts that prevented the officers from attending regular sessions.

A series of bites by Chase, the third and final one on an officer during an arrest, led Mayor Tony George in January to take the dog out of service for public safety reasons.

And a settlement that month in a pending arbitration between the city and Wilkes-Barre Police Benevolent Association over test scores for K9 handlers resulted in the transfer of Skoty to Roper from Officer Kevin Novackowski.

The switch was difficult for Novackowski who wanted Skoty retired with him. He hired attorney Kimberly Borland of Wilkes-Barre to pursue the matter, citing a missed deadline in the arbitration settlement as grounds for the dog’s retirement. Borland was out of the office Tuesday and could not be reached for comment.

Both dogs also underwent evaluations, and the city said they were cleared for training in preparation for an eventual return to duty. But to date, the city has been unable to line up a trainer, leaving it hard to say when the K9 units would return to service, Wampole said.

Reach Jerry Lynott at 570-991-6120 or on Twitter @TLJerryLynott.


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