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Patrolman LaRosa named 2nd Salem K-9 handler

STEVE LAROSA

SALEM — Patrolman Steve LaRosa said he’s pretty excited and thankful after being named Thursday as handler for the city’s second police dog.

“This is something I always wanted to do in my career,” he said by phone.

Chief J.T. Panezott made the announcement when contacted for an update on plans to secure the second dog, less than a year after K-9 Simon and his partner, Patrolman Michael Garber, took to the streets.

“Steve is a very good police officer. He’s aggressive, he works very hard (and) he’s got great people skills,” Panezott said.

When the chief first asked for patrol officers who were interested in working with the department’s K-9 unit to step forward last year, both Garber and LaRosa applied. His intention had always been to get two dogs, so when the opportunity for a second dog came up late last year, he looked no further than LaRosa. He knew he still wanted the opportunity.

LaRosa already has a large Rotweiler at home and said he’s always wanted to work with dogs. He’s looking forward to working with his fellow K-9 handler Garber to do the best they can for the city, for the people who have put their faith in them. The new dog will become a member of LaRosa’s family which also includes his girlfriend, Lacey Thrasher, a dispatcher with the police department.

A 1996 graduate of Austintown Fitch High School, LaRosa served in the U.S. Army with the military police and was reactivated after 9/11  to work airport security as a member of the military police force, first in Cleveland, then in the D.C. area. He graduated from the Ohio Police Officers Training Academy in May 2001 and worked part-time for the Lisbon Police Department before heading to South Carolina where he worked for the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department. He was a detective with the fugitive unit there when he took the civil service exam here and was hired as a full-time Salem police officer in 2008. He has never worked as a handler with a K-9 unit, but his South Carolina department had dogs.

Panezott said he wants LaRosa to start looking at the new dogs in training at Shallow Creek Kennels in Sharpsville, Pa. sometime at the end of this month or beginning in February. They’re shooting to get into the six-week training course which begins March 20 at Shallow Creek, with plans to call and order a dog today. A new vehicle to be equipped for a K-9 has already been ordered from Donnell Ford of Salem with a March delivery date.

The price tag for the 2017 Ford Explorer Police Interceptor is $28,315, with an additional $2,800 for the warranty, $2,500 for the in-car computer, $600 for the police radio, $4,975 for the in-car camera and $13,214 for the equipment, such as lights, sirens, kennel and specialized heating and cooling system and quick release system, just like the vehicle used by Garber and K-9 Simon.

The cost for the dog and training from Shallow Creek is $13,750 and includes a $250 discount for being a repeat customer.

Panezott thanked the Salem Community Foundation for making it possible and said he’s been working with SCF President John Tonti and grants coordinator Melissa Costa. The foundation approached him in November with an offer to donate $65,000 toward the cost of a second dog, the training and the vehicle equipped for a K-9. He wanted to accept, but wanted an additional police officer hired to take the place of the road officer he was going to assign as handler. City council agreed and the cost for an additional officer was placed in the 2017 budget.

“I have to thank the administration and our city council for understanding that this isn’t just something you give to an officer on the road and expect them to answer calls. It was very important to us to do this right,” he said.

Panezott explained that the K-9 unit has to have a flexible schedule to be called when needed at all hours of the day or night and for working traffic while on duty.

The plan is for LaRosa and his new partner to begin work sometime in late spring or early summer. The two dogs will work opposite shifts.

“We’re doubling the K-9 coverage we’re going to have,” the chief said, which is bad new for drug dealers.

K-9 Simon discovered drugs which resulted in an arrest on his first day on the job in August.

“I’m excited. We’re going to have two great dogs out there. I think the rest of the department is excited, too,” Panezott said.

He noted that people can continue to donate to the perpetual fund set up through the SCF to help with ongoing costs for the K-9s. The city pays for the salary and benefits for the officers, along with a stipend to cover costs related to caring for the dogs.

mgreier@salemnews.net

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