After the . Board of Directors voted against an officer's request for a K-9 kennel at its last regular meeting, the president of the Greenbelt Fraternal Order of Police, wrote, “Your decision last night was a huge black eye to the members of the Greenbelt FOP.”
“We’re just disheartened by it,“ said Michael Apgar, the Greenbelt FOP president, on Tuesday.
“Courageous… the Board is to be respected!” exclaimed GHI resident Barbara Stevens in an interview Tuesday night.
Partisans on both sides were equally impassioned about the board’s Jan. 26 decision to deny the request of GHI resident, Officer Robert Defibaugh, to place a kennel in his yard for a police K-9 dog. The kennel is a requirement for the officer to enter the Greenbelt Police Department’s K-9 training program.
The kennel issue pitted neighbor complaints and animal rights advocates’ concerns against a police officer’s dream to live in Greenbelt, while serving on its highly commended K-9 program.
GHI resident Jean Newcomb described her experience living near one of the three previous GHI K-9s in a letter to the board.
“I live in a neighboring court and have already experienced what it is like to have a kenneled K-9 living close by,” Newcomb said. “When walking past the yard with a very aggressive, large attack dog, I feared he would break out.”
Bob Snyder, who lives near Defibaugh, told the board he was concerned about the location of the kennel, as Defibaugh’s yard is adjacent to a public sidewalk.
The board voted 7-0 against Defibaugh building the housing for a kennel. Laura Moore and Irv Wartell were not present during the vote. Moore had stepped down from the GHI Board of Directors prior to the meeting.
Defibaugh took actions to move to College Park after the vote, according to Apgar. The people in College Park are welcoming him and saying they’d love to have an officer in the neighborhood, Apgar said.
Apgar’s letter to the board said having Defibaugh move out of the city made him sick. “The fact that a Greenbelt Police officer is forced to move out of the city so that he can have a K-9, to be used in the community that did not want him here, is an absolute tragedy.”
“Given the concerns of neighbors and other members, a K-9 kennel does not seem to be a good fit for the community," GHI Board President Tokey Boswell stated in an email to Patch explaining the board’s decision. “K-9 kennels have been tried in GHI in the past, and the experiment has failed,” he added.
On the other hand, Defibaugh relocated to GHI more than five years ago with the intention of applying for a spot on the Greenbelt Police Department’s K-9 force as soon as one became open, according to Apgar. K-9 officers have lived in Greenbelt in the past, Apgar said, adding that if GHI had told them the rules had changed, Defibaugh would have never moved into the neighborhood.
Eldon Ralph, General Manager of GHI, explained in an interview on Wednesday that GHI does not have a rule concerning kennels, which are treated as "accessory buildings" and require board permission.
Although in the past, GHI granted an officer permission to house a kennel on Gardenway, in that case, Ralph did not recall residents voicing concerns to the board about it. But this time around, they did. The board has to take members' concerns into consideration, he said.
At GHI’s meeting, Board Member David Morse explored whether the kennel exception could be granted on a trial basis, reserving the right for the board to revoke permission if it did not work out.
Cpl. Robert Musterman, with the Greenbelt Police Department, told the board that such a contingency arrangement would not work. If an officer was accepted into the program and the board reversed its decision, he or she would be forced to move, he explained.
Other GHI residents, including members of GHI’s Companion Animal Committee, expressed concerns at the meeting about how K-9s were trained, especially when it came to the use of kenneling and the potential to use shock collars to train a dog not to bark. Some saw the method as inhumane.
Musterman affirmed that shock collars were one of several short-term methods employed to train K-9s.
“It is not electrocution,” he explained, “it is stimulation.”
While Defibaugh affirmed that he would keep his dog in the house when not on duty, Musterman admitted that there was nothing in the training rules or guidelines to require an officer to do so.
Newcomb, however, thinks it’s inhumane. In the case of a K-9 that is trained to be aggressive and bark, it becomes confused when it barks at people walking by its kennel and is shocked, according to Newcomb.
Despite some police union members’ disappointment with the decision, Apgar affirmed police officers' commitment to serve the city.
"We don’t hate GHI. We’re not angry men with guns,” he said on Wednesday, speaking for the union members he represents.
If the police have a K-9 working and a robbery occurs on Hillside, the neighborhood that Defibaugh is departing, Apgar said, “We’re going to show up. That’s what we do.”
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Bailey Henneberg contributed to this article.