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Police dog for Phil Campbell subject of debate

As he opened the town council meeting Tuesday night, Phil Campbell Mayor Steve Bell and the council sat in front of an overflow crowd at Phil Campbell City Hall.

I wish it were like this every time we meet,” Bell said. “To have this many people concerned enough to come to a council meeting is encouraging.”

What was on the minds of most in attendance was the issue of a K-9 unit for the Phil Campbell Police Department. A local fund raising drive designed to raise money to help purchase a police dog came to a halt last week when Bell asked the organizers to end it.

As the topic of a K-9 unit gained momentum through Phil Campbell, some residents heard the mayor and council didn't want a police dog and had told Phil Campbell Police Chief Joe Fike to drop the idea.

Bell told the crowd he and the council didn't kill the idea. In fact, they didn't even know there were discussions about a police dog until councilman Danny Brown saw a flyer describing a fund raiser detergent sale to help offset the costs of a K-9.

We're not against the idea of a K-9 unit in Phil Campbell,” Bell said. “The issue is we weren't aware the fund raiser was being done.”

Bell explained the cost and liability involved with a police department adding a K-9 unit. He said the council would have to approve a plan before anyone moved forward with the idea.

There's been a lot of speculation that led to misinformation that we didn't want a drug dog,” Bell said. “We just want to know what's going on on the town's behalf because it's a big liability we would be taking on.”

Two citizens, Joanne Holifield and Sarah Nix, were on the meeting agenda to address the council about a K-9 unit and what they described as a rampant drug problem both in the town and at Phil Campbell High School.

There is a need for a drug protection dog,” Holifield said. “As for the cost, we've talked to businesses, churches and others willing to donate money and help with fundraisers. There is a way you could pay a handler for his off-duty time.”

Bell distributed several articles and studies on K-9 units that show the startup costs to be more than $20,000. Additionally, he explained there would be costs for annual training, living expenses for the dog and a vehicle specially equipped to house a K-9.

Bell said he had spoken with the chief deputy with the Franklin County Sheriff's Department and was assured the town could request assistance from that K-9 unit any time it was needed.

Nix told the council about a “major drug problem” in Phil Campbell.

If you can get the drug dog from the county, it needs to be here the whole month,” Nix said. “It needs to go to the school. It needs to go to the apartments in town. We've got a prostitution ring going on here. And you can't warn people or school officials the dog's coming. That's what has been done in the past and it's not right,” Nix added.

Franklin County Sheriff Shannon Oliver said the dog was available for use across Franklin County, including Phil Campbell and at Phil Campbell High School.

While the Phil Campbell Police Department is primarily responsible for enforcing the laws and ordinances in town, if they need our dog, it's a radio call or phone call away and it will be there,” Oliver said.

If school officials want the dog there, we need permission from the school to go in. If the school requests us to be there, we will be there. That's something that would need to be requested by the principal and superintendent. And we could set up some times when it would be unannounced.

Franklin County has a widespread drug problem. Sometimes when we search schools, especially the whole campus, it takes more than one dog. We have called in other counties and cities to have their dogs come too,” Oliver added.

Another issue with a K-9 unit in Phil Campbell is who would serve as the K-9 officer. Fike is the only full-time officer employed by the city. A collection of part-time officers are working to fill out the current schedule.

Although Bell believes his research has shown the town can't afford the costs associated with a K-9 unit, he said the council would not close the door on the idea.

I appreciate everyone's passion. We want to do something to solve the problem but we've got to communicate back and forth,” Bell said. “We can come up with a plan and get with Chief Fike and present it to the council. And if we have the money in the budget we will go forward,” he added.

Bell said he spoke with Bear Creek Mayor Connie Morrison about their town's K-9 unit. He said Morrison said the city had a dog given to the police department but still couldn't afford the expenses associated with it.

They had $80,000 in the dog in a short time. There are special housing needs and special vehicle needs per policy. They ended up selling the dog to another city,” Bell said.

As for fund raisers, councilman Jim Cartee said a non-profit organization would have to be set up in order to earmark funds raised for a specific purpose. Otherwise, funds donated to town would end up in the general fund and not for a specific purpose.


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