WESTBOROUGH, MA—This week, Retired Police Chief Glenn Parker shares memories of the ’70s in the Westborough Police Department, in particular when the K9 team was established. Visit Parker’s Westborough History page on Facebook for more, which is also shared on the Westborough Police Department’s page.
The tumultuous 1970s were an extension of the 60s. While in downtown Westborough young people were searching for something to do by rebelling against authority, hanging out, loitering and experimenting with drugs and alcohol. It was a time when parenting, morality and status quo were being challenged.
The 1970s were also years of great strides for the criminal justice system and more especially the Westborough Police Dept. The new chief, Harry Shepherd had an open mind to training and education that impacted the community as well as the department. Although most of the training was on our own time (for budget reasons) having the chief’s support was paramount to its implementation and success. It was a time when the police ran the town ambulance with a minimal of basic training. In 1975 the chief sponsored four officers to become the town’s first emergency medical technicians (things have certainly changed in forty years). Criminal and arson investigation techniques, crime prevention etc were offered. Then in 1976 the chief approved a very unconventional police program presented by then rookie Officer Ronald Allen. A police–canine program, the first of its kind in Worcester County.
The United States Police Canine Association training philosophy was based on the German Schutzhund theory and training methods: tracking, obedience and protection. In the years to follow the U.S. training included drug and bomb detection, search and rescue and cadaver detection.
However, unlike all the advanced police training available none was more engaging or demanding than the police-canine program. The responsibility of establishing a K9 team was a 24 hour a day 7 days a week commitment. Initially the handler as well as the dog were required to complete a rigorous training program and testing to ensure each element of the philosophy was followed. In-service and certification was required on a yearly basis. The team developed a bond and dedication that became essential as the dog became a live-in member of the family. While the officer became totally dependent on the dogs protection capabilities to become the officers partner.
Although there were many positive elements to an effective K9 program there were also a reluctance of the chief and selectmen with concerns of budget, insurance liability issues, training and certification. Cops with canines were portrayed on TV news as the evil element of law enforcement. All the media was showing was the aggressive tactics necessary to meet the threat of attacking rioters, looters and protestors. However, the chief saw through the media bias and agreed to support the program with stipulations. A thousand dollars was all the chief had in the budget for food and veterinarian cost, the remaining costs were absorbed by the handler. But as the program began to prove its worthiness to the community and law enforcement the funding became more available.
It was in June 1975 when Officer Ron Allen of Westborough graduated from the Boston Police Academy Training Program. Now, rookie Officer Allen, very much impressed with what he had witnessed and learned at Boston Police Department brought to Westborough his proposal for the latest and greatest in law enforcement training.
After considerable discussion with the chief Officer Allen was given the go ahead to establish Westborough’s first police canine program. Now Allen had to find a dog. With the help of a friend at the state police an eighteen month old German Shepherd was located and passed the initial screening test. As a rookie cop in the 1976, Officer Allen on his own time and K-9 Thor attended and graduated from the basic K-9 training program conducted at the Boston Police K-9 Academy that consisted of training in obedience, agility, evidence recovery, building search, tracking and criminal apprehension.
Upon graduation Officer Allen took the lead in this area and established the standards for K9 training. Officer Allen set the bar and spearheaded the program while spending untold hours training Thor. Officer Allen reached a level of training expertise that became a sought after commodity through-out the county and state.
In the early years of the program there was no dedicated K9 vehicle. The team needed to share a vehicle with other patrol officers. As you can well imagine some officers did not take kindly to sharing with the family pet.
Sharing had its issues of dog odor, fur flying and other sanitary concerns that surfaced on occasion. The officer had to clean and vacuum the cruiser after every shift. Once the first K9 dedicated car was salvaged from the trading block the issue of sharing was resolved. Now a new and costly issue arose that of making the car patrol worthy for the K9 team. This also became the responsibility of Off. Allen.
Even though there were a number of team changes throughout the years the K9 program continued to have a significant impact on public relations as well as contributions to law enforcement concerns. A canine with this level of training and job related demanding expectations reduced the units performance and longevity but not the dog’s life. Although a dog may have lost some of its bite in its later years a dog upon retiring remained the family pet for life.
Each team brought its own personality and strengths to the job. But ultimately, it was the handler that was responsible for the success and longevity of the team. Thor was an extraordinary dog whether tracking a criminal, aggression tactics and while recovering property there was none better. Thor and handler Allen set the bar that no other team could meet. I can’t say enough about the achievements, Thor was indeed a «wonder dog». Officer Allen taking full advantage of Thor’s success, received continued support of the community and the media kept the powers to be happy.
During the years from 1977 until 1983, Officer Allen was the lead trainer with the assistance of Off. Chas Boone, Gerry Furbish and Bruce Allen and graduated no less than 40 working police canines from across Massachusetts and N.H. In 1979, Massachusetts became the first state in the country to offer a K-9 minimum standard of performance, including a patrol dog certification test.
Officer Allen was chosen as the first director of K-9 training for Mass Criminal Justice Training Council, and was responsible for overseeing the state-wide program until 1984. The W.P.D. continued to have an impact on the K-9 world as Allen’s position required him to assist states of New York, Ohio and Florida with the development and implementation of their K-9 minimum performance standards. Officer Allen also established the Region 8 canine district and secured an empty building at the old Grafton State Hospital. This accusation proved a very useful property as an office and meeting area while the grounds provided a training area as well as a public area for presenting canine agility demonstrations.
In 1984 Officer Allen was experiencing chronic back pain which forced him to prematurely retire from the K9 program and the Westborough Police Department. Unfortunately, the program was never the same. Although K9 units were trained and put in service, none ever reached the level of achievement as the Allen Era.
In many programs there is a beginning, a middle and end. Police programs are no exception whether it’s funding, lack of support or ineffectiveness. The Westborough K9 program like many in Massachusetts were discontinued several years ago.
Photo # 1 – Officer Ron Allen & Thor…Officer Jerry Furbish…Officer Bruce Allen
Photo # 2 – Officer R. Charles Boone & K-9 Sampson
Photo # 3 – Officer Mark Hebert & K-9 Max
Photo # 4 – R. Chas Boone, K9 Sampson – Ron Grey, Southborough P.D. – Hank Ferdette, Hopkinton P.D. – David Glispin, K9 Blackjack – Grafton P.D. – Gerry Furbish, K9 Wolf – Boylston and Ron Allen, K9 Thor
Photo # 5 – Sergeant Alan Gordon & K-9 Casey
Photo # 6 – Officer Shirley Mendez, Shrewsbury P.D…Officer Steven Reale and Officer Gary Hassett, K9 Sayno
Photo # 7 – Officer Peter Goodney, K9 Xadda
Photos and story used with permission, courtesy Glenn Parker