When Stonington police arrested Robert Donell Annunziata, a suspect wanted for murder in Georgia, after he fled the scene of a traffic stop on I-95, K-9 units were crucial in his capture, according to Stonington Police Capt. Todd Olson.
Police dogs and their handlers from Stonington, Ledyard, the Town of Groton and the Connecticut State Police tracked the suspect to the area of the Pawcatuck Little League complex on July 7 and he was quickly taken into custody.
It was the sort of response that has shown the value of K-9 units in fighting crime and ensuring public safety, and it caught the attention of a group that has organized a fundraiser at the Knickerbocker Music Center on Saturday night to support local police departments.
"It is impossible to quantify the value of these police dogs," said Marc Pernaveau, one of the organizers. "They can help find a missing child or person, they can track a suspect, they can help sniff for bombs and other things. We wanted to do something to support our local agencies."
Pernaveau is a radio host with the University of Rhode Island radio station, WRIU, and works as an instructor with the Arthur Murray Dance Center in Niantic.
The fundraiser will be held from 8 to 11 p.m. at the music center on Railroad Avenue in Westerly. Performing will be Johnny and the East Coast Rockers and Roger Cersei's All Starz, and there will be a 50/50 raffle, silent auction and demonstrations by K-9 Nico from Westerly, K-9 Odin from Stonington, and their handlers.
Proceeds from the event will be given to Westerly Local 503 of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers. The union will give half the money to the K-9 unit in Westerly and half to the one in Stonington.
Pernaveau, part of a three-member planning committee, said the event actually began as an animal rescue fundraiser. After talking with town officials, however, Pernaveau said they decided to draw attention to the K-9 units instead.
Based on strong support received from the community so far, Pernaveau said he was hopeful that the event would raise up to $20,000, or $10,000 for each department.
Westerly Police Chief Shawn Lacey said, "These K-9s are a major asset to our department and we are very thankful for any support we receive. We've received donations and other support in the past, but this event could prove helpful in building on our existing resources."
Lacey and Olson said that maintaining the units was expensive. Most police dogs can cost between $6,000 and $10,000 upfront for basic training. Further costs include food and toys, veterinarian care, tools to retrofit a police cruiser with kennel equipment, and regular training updates.
Typically these costs are covered by the police budget, but there is little if any room to expand on existing resources, the officers said.
Lacey said that Westerly could potentially seek a third K-9, one that would specialize in bomb detection or other skills that the current K-9 units have not been trained for.
In Stonington, Olson said the donations could potentially help begin purchasing and training another dog as well — one which would then be ready to go when Odin is ready to retire. Odin has been in service for nearly six years.
"We are unbelievably appreciative of the support," Olson said. "Each town has a budget for this stuff, but that budget is sometimes strained. It takes a lot of support to make it work, and fortunately we have that kind of support in this community."
Tickets for the event may be purchased at the door or in advance at the Knickerbocker Music Center website. For more information, visit knickmusic.org.