by Jonathan Weaver
By next year, Kittanning Borough Council looks to add a four-legged officer to the local police force.
That goal became more realistic to Councilwoman Kim Fox last week when she was told Kittanning Borough Police was awarded a $10,000 grant from the Ben Roethlisberger Foundation.
“It’s absolutely amazing what Ben has done – we can’t thank Ben enough,” Fox said. “This is absolutely huge what he’s done for us.”
Fox and local resident Linda Hemmes announced to Council in August 2012 that they had submitted a grant proposal to the foundation due to concerns about drug activity in the surrounding area.
Before last week, volunteers had collected $4,000 in local donations.
“We have $4,000 in local donations so far, and now that we have received the grant – which was a big chunk of money that we needed -, we’re going to start fundraising. (The grant) really brings this full-circle – this will help us accomplish getting a dog by the end of the year,” Fox said.
Fox estimated the grant funding will help train the dog, which she will begin shopping for in April. Her first stop includes Castle’s K-9 in Harrisburg, which according to their website, is one of the largest and most reputable police canine training agencies in the United States and has worked with more than 2,000 dogs.
Fox hopes to get the community involved in the estimated-$55,000, five year program and is still seeking community donations and volunteers. Interested residents can contact her at 724-548-4465 or pick up information forms at the police station or borough building along North Grant Avenue.
“We’re not going to take a dime from taxpayers. We’re going to raise every dime we need,” Fox said.
Hemmes wrote the grant application and was also notified – and excited- about the announcement.
“I’m very excited about the dog because I was a victim of a drug-related crime and I’m very concerned about the future of Kittanning,” Hemmes said. “The level of drug use is so insidious and so frightening.”
After a home invasion in April 2011, Hemmes installed interior and exterior security cameras at her home and a guest home, as well as outdoor motion-activated lighting. Even though the equipment will remain after a drug-sniffing dog is added to the police force, Hemmes will welcome the addition.
“I think the dog is going to have a huge impact,” Hemmes said.
Fox praised Hemmes for her grant-writing skills, especially since the funding was received via the first application.
“It couldn’t have happened without her,” Fox said.
Giving Back Fund Foundation Relationship Manager Jessica Duffaut said Fox and Hemmes submitted a “strong” application before the August 1 deadline. She didn’t release how many municipalities applied for such grants, but said more than the 16 awardees did apply.
A total of 16 grants were issued nationwide: eight in the Pittsburgh area (representing the eight home games played) and eight for each away city the Steelers played in during the NFL season.
She said many factors went into the winning areas, which also regionally included: Center Township (Butler County), Aliquippa (Beaver County), Clairton and Robinson Township (both in Allegheny County), New Castle (in Lawrence County), and Latrobe and Mt. Pleasant Boroughs (in Westmoreland County).
“We look at a number of things, one of which their readiness to implement a canine if (the municipality) trying to start the unit. Another big factor is sustainability; if we’re going to invest in the unit, we want to make sure the dog will be cared for long-term,” Duffaut said.
Funds will be used to start new K-9 units as well as maintain existing ones who will purchase additional K-9s, K-9 safety vests, training equipment, food and other necessary expenses of the K-9 units.
Fox said Kittanning Borough has a long road ahead for the added equipment, but is excited.
“We have a lot of work to do in the coming months, but I’m just overwhelmed. I’m so grateful to Ben – it’s amazing,” Fox said.
Although she is not writing any more right now, Hemmes said she is willing to write grants on behalf of the Kittanning Borough Police Department in the future.
Even though applicants found out grant results last week, public announcement was delayed until all were properly informed.
This completed the foundation’s sixth grant cycle, which has distributed more than $66,000 in grants to the eight Pittsburgh-area police departments this year and more than $135,000 in-total to units across the country.