Vernon Police: Animal Control not always first to respond

VERNON. Budgetary constraints limit Animal Control’s response to nuisance animal calls outside of normal business hours, Police Capt. Keith Kimkowski said.

07 Aug 2019 | 12:28

As residents continue to hotly debate whether deadly force was justified in the fatal shooting of the dog known as “Hiro” on July 27, Police Capt. Keith Kimkowski said his department is generally the first to respond when a nuisance animal call comes in after hours.

In redacted body cam footage posted to the department’s Facebook page, the man who called in the complaint about Hiro can be heard telling responding officer Ptl. Emanuel Rivera that he tried to call Animal Control but they weren’t open.

Rivera said that Animal Control would not come out unless the police department had the dog contained.

According to Kimkowski, Animal Control always responds to reports of nuisance animals during normal business hours, however, outside of those hours the police department is the primary responding agency.

The Vernon Township Animal Shelter is maintained by Animal Control and indicates on its website that its business hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday.

Four individuals are listed as animal control officers, and the department states it is responsible for the confinement of lost pets, among other things.

Staff are on 24-hour emergency call through the police department for sick or stray animals, according to the site.

“You’re talking 15, it could be 45 minutes before they (Animal Control) can go to the scene,” Kimkowski said. “In most instances, that dog’s gone.”

Because police officers are frequently on patrol throughout the township, they are better able to quickly respond to nuisance animal calls outside of normal business hours, he said.

“(With) Animal Control, there’s not the personnel hours to sit there waiting for the call to come in 24 (hours a day), 7 (days a week), 365 (days a year),” Kimkowski said. “I would love to have the money to man everything (around the clock), but that’s just never going to happen.”

Vernon Police does have what is known as a HLEO, or Humane Law Enforcement Officer, Kimkowski said, but the HLEO would not respond to a report of a dog at large because there is no element of animal cruelty present.

Humane Law Enforcement Officers are certified by the Police Training Commission and are required to take a four-day course, according to the Morris County Public Safety Training Academy.

They investigate allegations of animal cruelty, Kimkowski said.

Training covers topics such as observation and perception, building and grounds and animal behavior and traits.

Controversy has swirled since July 27, when Rivera responded to a complaint of an aggressive dog in the vicinity of Tall Oaks Drive and Hiro charged at him, causing the officer to fire his gun at the animal when it did not respond to commands to back up.

Hiro was fatally wounded and many who have viewed the redacted body cam footage have questioned the use of deadly force.

In the footage, the video was cut just before Rivera fired his weapon.

The incident is continuing to be investigated by the Vernon Township Police Department and Rivera is on active duty, Kimkowski said.