Rumford police Officer Brad Gallant with his future, crime-fighting partner, Niko.

Rumford police Officer Brad Gallant and his K-9 partner, Niko, will soon begin a training program where the dog and handler will learn to work as a team.

RUMFORD — Niko, an affectionate black American Labrador that will soon be trained to sniff out trouble, is the newest member of the Rumford police force.

Over the past week, Officer Brad Gallant has been introducing his future, crime-fighting partner to the public.

“Niko is an amazing, community-oriented, policing option,” Gallant said. “I already spend a bunch of time in schools. The kids are going to love him.”

Niko is short for Nikolas, Greek for “Power of the People.” The 9-month-old will be trained in narcotics detection, article searches and nonviolent tracking.

At the annual town meeting June 12, voters approved raising $59,000 for a Rumford police K-9 proposal.

The money primarily covers the $36,000 for the new cruiser for Gallant, and the cost to retrofit the vehicle for Niko, the $4,800 cost for Niko, with the remainder for veterinarian costs, training and pay for the handler.

Police Chief Stacy Carter estimated an annual cost of about $10,000 to support the program, which includes the cost of quarterly training to stay certified and the cost food and officer compensation.

“We’re required to compensate him (Gallant) for off-duty care of the animal,” Carter said, adding the main focus with the police canine program is to address an areawide drug problem.

“The K-9 is only going to boost the amount of cases and amount of drugs we’re able to get because there’s a whole lot of work happening by patrol,” Carter said.

“Having a K-9 readily available, we may be able to have probable cause to search a vehicle and get a load of drugs off the street.”

Carter said believes those opportunities are going to magnify, and “we’re going to see a lot more seizures and prosecutions. That’s the hope of having a K-9.”

Gallant, Niko’s handler for more than two weeks, said the dog came from a breeder in Connecticut who has supplied dogs to the state police in Connecticut and New Hampshire.

He said at 3-days-old, Niko was first exposed to noises to various, police-related environments and situations.

“He’s been in office buildings, schools, homes,” Gallant said. “He’s been in firearms, fireworks, thunder and lightning. He’s been in and out of police cruisers, and ridden in police cruisers during a shift.”

Gallant said Niko does not get rattled, “but he doesn’t like the vacuum cleaner much. Most dogs don’t.”

He said Niko has already learned certain search techniques that often take older dogs much longer to learn.

“He’s making very good progress,” Gallant said. “Last Friday, he did not know ‘stay.’ I can now get him to stay and walk out of the room for 15 seconds and come back in and he’s still there. That was over the course of four nights.”

Getting acquainted

During their short time together, Gallant said, “We’ve been on a couple hikes. We’ve done a lot of exploring around my residence. Although I live close to town, it’s still fairly rural.

He said they have also done a lot of exploring on the ATV trails and access roads behind his house.

“I want to make sure he’s very familiar with that area,” Gallant said. “We’ve been working most every day.”

Gallant said until they get the cruiser (due in mid-August), he cannot transport Niko. But the dog has already begun his role as an ambassador for the Police Department, helping build relations with the community.

Gallant said he and Niko have gone to places on the Island that have asked for a visit.

“We already visited Franklin Savings Bank and met all the staff,” Gallant said, “and I’ve got a meeting with staff at Oxford County Mental Health.”

Carter noted the community aspect of having Niko is “going to be phenomenal. One reason why we went with a Lab is to have that outreach.”

“Do we want people coming up and mauling the dog? No, because it’s a working dog,” Carter said. “But we want to have a dog that we can take into any place and feel comfortable that it’s not going to be aggressive. And it’s going to be able to relate to kids, the elderly, other animals.

“I think it’s going to be a very positive program for us. Positive in the aspect that I’m certain that we’re going to seize a lot of drugs with the dog. And just the community outreach — going in and connecting with kids at their events in school.”

Officer sees value of K-9

Gallant, who has trained to work with and care for his K-9 partner, said he wanted to be a handler for Niko because “I have been very active in our drug work for the past five years. For that reason, having a drug dog would be awesome.”

An officer in Rumford since 2010, his many duties have included searches for missing children. Once, local police had to wait hours before a Maine Warden Service K-9 was available.

“We had an elderly male walk out of the emergency room at Rumford Hospital, walk down Franklin Street and straight into the woods,” Gallant said. “We had 20 people in the woods for about three hours looking for him. We never saw him.”

The Maine Warden Service K-9 arrived five hours after the elderly man went missing, “and within 10 minutes he was found, perfectly fine, safe, alive.”

In the future, Gallant said he plans to take Niko to the special education department at the school and to the Rumford Community Home and Rumford Hospital.

“I want to make sure that he meets anyone who’s a wandering risk, whether it be due to dementia, Alzheimer’s, autism,” Gallant said. “Not so much that he can be familiar with them, but if one of them wanders and we get him going in the woods, it will be a familiar face for them.”

Gallant said Niko loves attention.

“He wants to have contact with people,” Gallant said. “but it’s important for people to ask. His temperament is quite amazing. He’s very friendly.”

Gallant said the Maine K-9 vest fund has reached out to the department.

“They’re a Facebook page fundraising organization that has bought vests and first-aid kits for several K-9s throughout the state,” he said. “They are running a GoFundMe page (www.gofundme.com/mainek9vests), and as money becomes available, they’re outfitting K-9s with vests.”

He said Niko is also a social animal online. Niko has his own Facebook page, collecting more than 400 likes in just six days.

Dog and handler training

Beginning in August, Gallant and Niko will participate in a training program where the dog and handler will learn to work as a team in crucial areas of police work.

Both will be prepared to be on call around the clock, although it has yet to be determined when Niko will be activated for duty.

If his training is done through the Maine State Police, which is five days a week, Niko could start at the end of October.

If it is through the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, where training is two days a week, so it might be at the end of the year.

“The handler and the dog have to have the same amount of training,” Carter said. “They both need 320 hours. They are certified as a team.”

Staffing is a bit of problem for the Rumford police right now. The 12-person department is down one officer, with another, Austin Couture, heading to the Maine Criminal Justice Academy.,

“We will have to fill in with reserves and overtime,” Carter said. “We’ll get it done because it’s important. We need to get Niko on the street.

“We’re excited to get it underway and see the results. This is really long overdue. We should have had the K-9 long before this.”

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