There’s a new (former) sheriff in town. His name is Wes. He’s a good boy.

And soon, the 3-year-old black Labrador retriever will become the Essex Police Department’s first-ever K9 officer.

Wes arrives in town as part of a donation from the Chittenden County Sheriff’s Department, where his handler, Officer Ben Chiaravalle, worked prior to joining EPD in April.

The Essex Selectboard approved a three-year K9 pilot program earlier this month at the request of Chief Rick Garey, who hopes the addition will help EPD provide better service and increase its outreach in the community (dogs are quite popular, after all.)

Garey explained Essex PD has long relied on other agencies whenever it needed a K9.

“We are always at the beck and call of is the dog available,” he said.

Wes is a search and rescue dog and is trained to detect all drugs except marijuana, which, given that it’s legal in small quantities now, was welcome news. Garey said Wes has a good track record with no lawsuits to his name and comes with good recommendations from the sheriff.

 

Garey said EPD uses K9s about 25 times a year ranging from building searches and drug raids to finding fleeing suspects and missing children.

Since working dogs aren’t usually retrained with a new handler, Chiaravalle’s departure from the sheriff’s department essentially incapacitated its K9 program. The county agency has offered to provide the dog and all its equipment to EPD in exchange for some technology services the town is already providing.

Chiaravalle began his law enforcement career in 2013 and became K9 certified three years later. The new role came with its added responsibilities and a brand-new side kick, but Chiaravalle considers himself lucky.

“[Wes] is a very easygoing dog, and he’s just been a great partner,” he said.

Chiaravalle added he’s grateful to EPD for allowing him to attend monthly trainings so he could keep his certification despite not working with Wes for the last six months.

Police K9s live with their handlers, and the time spent taking care of the dog outside of work are now usually built into the officer’s 40-hour work week. The only overtime is when the duo is called out to a scene during their off-hours.

Chiaravalle and Wes will work the evening shift, when Garey said the department gets most of its calls that could use a K9. He also told the selectboard he’s hopeful that with the department’s new program, it can start helping out other agencies that have long provided the service to EPD free of charge.

Garey’s next step is to write up a policy based on current programs in the area. Then Chiaravalle and Wes can once again hit the road.

Chiaravalle is clearly looking forward to the day, but chances are, not as much as Wes.

“He’s literally bouncing off the walls at home,” he said.