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The South Kingstown Police Department will soon welcome its newest member: a Belgian Mallnois dog named Connor. Connor, the first member of the department’s new grant-funded police dog program, is currently finishing up a 14-week training program with his police handler, officer Jonathan McHugh. The two are pictured above.

SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — The police department in South Kingstown is eagerly awaiting the arrival of  Connor, the first member of the department’s new grant-funded police dog program.

Connor is a Belgian Malinois finishing up a vigorous 14-week training program with his police handler, officer Jonathan McHugh.

The training is required so that Connor and McHugh can obtain certifications and also learn to work as a team in crucial areas of specialty police work. After finishing the training, the canine unit will be certified in search and rescue, article tracking and retrieval, narcotics detection, apprehension and patrol, according to South Kingstown Police Department Captain Alfred E. Bucco III.

“The South Kingstown Police Department is excited to introduce canine Connor to our ranks as the first police canine in the department since the 1970s,” Bucco said in a statement announcing the new program. “Officer McHugh and Connor have endured and excelled during a rigorous training program and will prove to be a valuable asset to the police department and the community as police canines serve a critical role in patrol operations. The South Kingstown Police would also like to thank the Rhode Island K-9 Academy for providing top-notch training for the canine team and for their continued support of the South Kingstown Police Department throughout this process.”

The K-9 Academy in Coventry is a family business that has trained police and working dogs for more than 25 years, according to its website. The training includes all aspects of police work, from basic narcotics dogs to covert tactical operations.

Dogs are hand-picked and must pass a strong selection process before entering the training program. The academy uses German Shepherds, Belgian Malinois and Dutch Shepherds.

The police department was awarded a $25,000 grant by the Stanton Foundation in order to establish a police dog program. The grant application was submitted through the Stanton Foundation’s First Dog Program in October of 2019 and the department got word this spring that the grant was awarded.

The funds allow the department to pay for its police dog program without incurring typical extensive startup costs associated with getting it off the ground.

The Stanton Foundation gives grants to support the creation of new canine units in cities and towns in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Maine. Grant funding provides for the purchase of the dog, training costs, kennel facilities, retrofitting a police cruiser for use by the unit, and food and veterinary care for three years.

South Kingstown’s police dog unit will be available on-call for whenever the service is needed. In the past, the department has relied on neighboring departments or agencies whenever a dog was required.

Considered and designated as full-time officers, police dogs have the ability to track missing people and suspects, search and clear buildings, help other officers and find illegal drugs.

The dogs also have proven to save valuable time and resources, such as during a search. Search grids that would normally involve several officers can be narrowed and completed quickly by a single dog.

There’s also a goodwill aspect to a department having a police dog. They often serve as four-legged ambassadors or liaisons with the community, visiting schools and  functions to help encourage positive relationships between police and the public.

The South Kingstown police expect that the canine unit will be operational in August.

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