By MICHAEL CLARK
Staff Writer, 609-272-7204
ATLANTIC CITY - Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson wants to school Mayor Lorenzo Langford and the public on the uses of police dogs in an effort to prevent the mayor from making any more "draconian" decisions.
Levinson invited Langford and police Chief John J. Mooney to a K-9 demonstration in Egg Harbor Township in response to the mayor's recent decision to halt the use of patrol dogs over allegations of misuse. Levinson said he hopes to convey the dogs' importance to the community and stressed a need to resolve the situation quickly.
"For these dogs to be sitting in cages right now, it's certainly not in anyone's best interest," Levinson said. "If an officer uses his weapon inappropriately, we don't remove all the guns, do we? The mayor is under different pressures in Atlantic City, and he may have different information, but on the surface, this is certainly something that I would not have done."
Langford could not be reached for comment Monday, but his spokesman said the mayor intended to send a written response to Levinson.
"This is not something that he has to teach to our community," spokesman Kevin Hall said. "He seems to imply that we're not aware of the importance of these dogs. The mayor takes issue with that. The mayor is responding to citizen complaints."
Those complaints have not been confirmed with data from the Mayor's Office. Langford's order to indefinitely remove the patrol dogs began an administrative investigation into the unit's practices. The administration requested data from the Internal Affairs Division of the Police Department regarding incidents of police brutality and police dog apprehensions, including Internal Affairs files.
Mooney said Monday he would not provide copies of the Internal Affairs reports, based on advice from Atlantic County Prosecutor Ted Housel.
The chief asked Housel for a legal opinion on the whether the administration has a right to see the reports. Housel referred him to state statute and attorney general's guidelines deeming the files confidential unless administrative charges are filed or if the reports are demanded by the court or Attorney General's Office.
The chief would not provide a copy of the Housel's memo, at the prosecutor's request.
Mooney said he does still plan to compile statistical data regarding the K-9 unit for the administration. The information has also been requested by The Press of Atlantic City.
Hall said the administration already began receiving reports, but did not say who provided them. The administration intends to release a statement Tuesday regarding the reports.
The removal of patrol dogs has already started to change things in the Police Department, including the way officials write news releases. On Saturday, the department publicly reported a home-invasion incident. Sgt. Monica McMenamin made sure to point out that patrol dogs were needed, but the assistance could not be provided. As a result, more officers were called to the scene, McMenamin said, adding that Officer Frankie Lane injured his arm and back during a foot pursuit of the suspects.
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