MERCER COUNTY: K-9 units throughout county get newly unveiled training facility

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Lawrence Canine Patrol Officer Ron Buchanan ("suspect") and West Windsor Officer Doug Montgomery's long haired German Shepherd partner

By Andrew Martins, Managing Editor
With her handler, Detective Sergeant Joe Angarone of the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office following closely behind, Bela the Belgian Malnois is all business. Narcotics are the quarry and the conscientious canine has picked up the scent. Within moments, her nose is in a pit of pea rock and gravel as she furiously claws at the smell.
With that, Bela successfully completed one of the first training exercises ever conducted at the newly opened Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office K-9 Training Facility in Ewing Township.
On Thursday, June 29, members of the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office were joined by officials from the Mercer County Sheriff’s Office and canine units from Ewing, Lawrence, Princeton, Robbinsville, Trenton and West Windsorat the new training grounds to commemorate its opening.
Mercer County Chiefs of Police Association President and Hopewell Township Police Chief Lance Maloney said he believed the newly minted training facility was going to be a major boon to the county’s law enforcement capabilities.
“I think having this here in Mercer County means that our guys that have the dogs in Mercer County will be able to train more often,” Maloney said.
Located on Scotch Road, behind the Curtis Bowling Lanes in Ewing Township, the training facility is the result of a year-long, $30,000 project that was paid for through the use of federal forfeiture funds.
The facility features: a United States Police Canine Association (USPCA) standard agility course, complete with a set of hurdles, a catwalk, a broad jump, an A-frame and crawl boxes; six suspect search area boxes that are meant to hide “suspects” so dogs can try to locate them; and a scent pit for narcotics and explosive detection training.
Prosecutor Angelo J. Onofri said the idea to establish a training facility in Mercer County stemmed from his time as an instructor at the State Police Academy.
“While I was at the academy, I noticed what just a phenomenal training facility they had,” he said. “[Meanwhile] the canine handlers and their partners here in Mercer County had to go all over the state.”
Previously, the closest place for Mercer County canine units to train their dogs was in Lakehurst at the State Police’s Canine Training Academy at Fort Dix.
As a result, officers like Robbinsville Township’s Sgt. Scott Kivit and his partner, a Yellow Labrador named Quori, have had to travel long distances in order to get their agility and scent training sessions done.
“I go to Philadelphia, I go to Montgomery County…I drive an hour away for some facilities,” Kivit said. “This [new facility] is great. I can take a break on my shift, come here, do some training with Quori.”
Moving forward, officials said the facility will be open to all Mercer County police departments with a canine program. The county’s prosecutor’s office and sheriff’s office, as well as several other police departments from throughout the state that also employ police dogs in various law enforcement activities, will be able to utilize the location.
As the police chief of a municipality that does not have its own canine program, Maloney said he was happy to know that such a training facility exists so close to home.
“There have been occasions that we as Hopewell Township have asked for K-9 assistance,” he said. “Even though we don’t have our own K-9 unit, we definitely benefit from our partners having these dogs.”
According to Ewing Mayor Bert Steinmann, the fields where the training facility is located were previously used by a municipal youth soccer program. When participation in the program diminished over the years, he said the fields were largely left empty until the prosecutor’s office reached out with plans for the training grounds.
“We were very proud to help to try to get this going,” Steinmann said. “What I can see is a fantastic facility that’s going to go a long way in helping our citizens – not only in Mercer County or Ewing Township – but throughout the state.”