Sheriff’s office to disband K-9 Unit in the new year

A German shepherd sits in front of an Essex County Sheriff's vehicle.
Photo Courtesy of Essex County Sheriff’s Office
Above is Marko, a bomb-detecting K-9 German shepherd that works with the Essex County Sheriff’s Office.

ESSEX COUNTY, NJ — At the start of the new year, the four-legged members of the Essex County Sheriff’s Office will be hanging up their leashes. Effective Jan. 1, the Essex County Sheriff’s K-9 Unit, which has been in action since 1987, will be disbanded. According to the Sheriff’s Office, the officers in this unit will be reassigned to other divisions throughout the department and the dogs will be either retired or transferred. 

“Throughout its tenure, our K-9 Unit has been a vital part of our law enforcement initiatives, assisting our narcotics and bomb units as well as our local, state and federal law enforcement partners,” Sheriff Armando Fontoura said in a Dec. 6 press release. “Unfortunately, due to increased demands on our budget and in an effort to save our taxpayers money, it has become necessary to find a more cost-effective way to deliver these important services.”

According to Fontoura, the Essex County Sheriff’s Office will be entering a new shared services agreement with other law enforcement agencies that will provide the same level of K-9 service and response to the people of Essex County.

“At this time we are not able to give any numbers regarding the financials of our K-9 unit or the shared service agreement that we will be entering into,” Julian Coltre, the senior public information officer for the sheriff’s office, said in a Dec. 9 email to the newspaper.

“While it is unfortunate that the K-9 unit will no longer be part of our department, the officers who have trained and worked with their dogs will have an opportunity to adopt them,” Fontoura said. “For those dogs who are not adopted by their handlers, the county will make arrangements for our canines to be well cared for.”

According to Coltre, the dogs’ human partners have until Dec. 16 to decide whether they will be keeping their dogs.

“Any arrangements for any dog that is not adopted will be made after the Dec. 16 deadline,” Coltre said. “That could mean they are found non-law enforcement homes, it could mean they find work in some other capacity outside of our department — this would require them to receive new training — or something else. Essex County will decide what the best course of action is after the deadline.”

At the announcement that the Sheriff’s Office would be disbanding the K-9 Unit, there were rumors that the dogs would be euthanized, but Coltre said that this was never the case.

“The most important thing, however, is the dogs will not and were never going to be euthanized if they were not adopted by their handlers,” Coltre said.

He added that, to the best of his knowledge, there are currently six dogs remaining in the unit. To those furry officers — Chex, Hanner, Mac, Yankee, Buzz and Joe — thank you for your service!