Rumford officer Brad Gallant and his canine partner, Niko, pose with their new cruiser. The two are in training to become a team in the department’s effort to curb drug crimes. (Bruce Farrin/Rumford Falls Times)

RUMFORD — If all goes as planned, Niko, the Rumford police dog could hit the streets by mid-December, Chief Stacy Carter said.

“Niko has started training and we’re told by the trainers that his certification should be completed mid-December. We’ll get him hitting the streets to start eradicating some of our drugs,” he said.

Niko, a black American Labrador, and his handler, officer Brad Gallant, have been training as a team in a program run by the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office in Farmington. They each have to have 320 hours of training to be certified as a team.

Gallant said there are four teams in training now.

“It’s nice because I’m getting to learn by watching other handlers with their dogs. They’re getting to learn by watching me and Niko. And then we’re getting to do the work together,” he said.

“I’ve approached this like learning how to walk,” he said. “You crawl, you get up and eventually start taking steps. This is all new to me. I’m learning as much or more than he is.”

 A typical training session is about eight hours.

“We introduced (Niko) to the odor of cocaine last week that he’ll learn to start identifying. That will be followed by learning how to do a room search for that,” Gallant said.

Voters at the annual town meeting June 12 approved raising $59,000 for a K-9, the term used for police dogs.

The money primarily covers the $36,000 for a new cruiser for Gallant, and the cost to retrofit the vehicle for Niko, $4,800 for Niko and the rest for veterinary services, training and a handler.

Carter estimated the annual cost of the program at $10,000, including quarterly training to stay certified, food and officer compensation.

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