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Pittsburgh Police to Purchase New Protective Vests for K-9 Officers

Keith Srakocic
The Associated Press

Pittsburgh Deputy Police Chief Paul Donaldson said he doesn’t know if a protective vest would have saved the life of the late K-9 Officer Rocco, but the bureau is planning to purchase newer, more practical protective gear for the 24 K-9 officers currently on the force.

The $26,273 price tag of the vests will be covered by donations from the general public in the wake of Rocco’s death, funneled through the Pittsburgh Foundation, the Black n Gold Girls and the Fraternal Order of Police.

“This fund will enable us, initially, to buy protective vests for our canines, and to make any other purchases that we believe are necessary or proper to either improve their safety or to improve their working conditions,” Donaldson told City Council at their committee meeting Wednesday morning.

Donaldson said the new vests, which he expects to purchase before the end of the year, are more lightweight and more adaptable to a variety of working conditions.

“We had some but the ones we had were outdated, antiquated," he said. "They were very heavy, they were very burdensome, and it wasn’t practical for the animals to wear them on a routine or regular basis.”

Rocco was stabbed in January as officers attempted to take a suspect into custody. The 8-year-old German Shepherd died two days later.

What will become the Officer Rocco K-9 Memorial Fund, upon City Council approval, currently has a balance of $96,035 and is being held by the Pittsburgh Foundation. The bill discussed by council members Wednesday would turn that money over to a city trust fund and allow the Bureau of Police to draw down the fund by 5 percent on an annual, as-needed basis to cover expenses related to the Canine Division.

Councilwoman Darlene Harris, while supportive of the bill, had questions about when a monument to Rocco might be erected, saying such a project was “just as important” as monuments to other fallen officers.

“Monuments, as always, are very expensive to erect, but … it is our goal to someday erect a monument over on the North Shore where we have our other police monuments,” Donaldson answered.

Susan Wagner, the artist who created the Rocco statue, which is currently being bronzed, said an unveiling and dedication is tentatively scheduled for May 2015. She said the money used pay her came from a completely different fund. Wagner is the artist behind the North Shore sculptures of Roberto Clemente and Bill Mazeroski, among others.

Harris also expressed concern about how donations to the Officer Rocco fund where handled, and peppered Budget Director Sam Ashbaugh with questions about who authorized the FOP and Black n Gold Girls to turn donations they had collected over to the Pittsburgh Foundation.

Ashbaugh answered that, to his knowledge, no one in the Peduto administration had been involved in the decision to use the Pittsburgh Foundation as a clearinghouse for the funds.

Councilman Dan Gilman pointed out that donating money to the Pittsburgh Foundation is tax-deductible, while giving money directly to the city is not, so it made more sense to collect the funds through the foundation.

However, when Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith suggested that Harris’s concerns could be assuaged by creating stricter policies and procedures for such public-private partnerships. Ashbaugh agreed and said that was something his office was already working on.

Liz Reid began working at WESA in 2013 as a general assignment reporter and weekend host. Since then, she’s worked as the Morning Edition producer, health & science reporter and as an editor.
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