After just five years on the job, Ace has been retired from the Lynnfield Police Department.
The 6-year-old Belgian Malinois, the preferred dog breed for military service and law enforcement, has been cut from the department. He was adopted earlier this month by his handler, Patrolman Raymond Barnes, a lifelong Peabody resident.
“Officers who work with K-9s develop a bond with the dog, so they can’t go to another department,” said Barnes, as he choked back tears. “I like to joke that I spend more time with Ace than my wife, but it’s true, because he’s with me on my shifts. I was not going to let the dog go to a breeder, either. After working with him for five years, I couldn’t let that happen. The town was kind enough to let me adopt him.”
Lynnfield Police Chief David Breen did not return calls seeking comment.
Town Administrator Robert Dolan said Ace’s addition to the department was the result of a grant, which has ended and the town is taking a regional approach to dog service.
“If we need a dog, we will request one from the Massachusetts State Police or the Essex County Sheriff’s Office.”
The chief’s position, Dolan said, is a K-9 is not in the best interest of the town.
But that’s not what Breed told Boston Magazine in 2014.
At the time, the chief had a different view. He said in his 20 years with the department, he had always wanted a dog on the force, but getting the funding was an obstacle.
While Lynnfield is a quiet town with white picket fences and manicured lawns, the need was there, he told the magazine.
“They are a force multiplier,” Breen said. “These days, there is so much more the dog can do, and so many more instances of requests for dogs.”
Barnes learned of a $25,000 grant offered to Massachusetts police departments in 2014 to cover startup expenses that come with having a K-9 unit. The grant provided enough cash for three years including paying to buy the dog, training, kennel facilities at the officer’s home, equipment for a police cruiser, food and veterinary care.
But Barnes made the money stretch an extra year, he said.
“I found ways to get things donated,” he said. “I got the kennel in the cruiser donated from the Massachusetts State Police and saved the town $3,000.”
Barnes said he would forgo pay in order to keep the animal, but the chief said the decision was not negotiable.
“It’s tough to see a program get cut,” said Barnes, 51. “It came as quite a shock. I understand budgetary constraints and not every town needs a dog, I get it. But Lynnfield committed to the program, put thousands of hours of training in to the point where the dog is at his prime.”
Still, Dolan insists the dog isn’t free.
“There are expenses associated with it,” he said. “When a grant expires, you have to determine if there’s a better way to provide this service. The need for a dog in Lynnfield is minimal. We had a great experience with it, but there are other ways to have the same service.”
Barnes said when Ace arrived on the force five years ago, the K-9 was a year old. He was trained to do searches, apprehensions and officer protection.
“He can pick up the odor of a drug in a closed vehicle from outside, and it can be just a half a gram,” he said.
K-9s typically live with the officer they are teamed with and Ace was no exception. Ace has a kennel in Barnes’ backyard.
Belgian Malinois, or “Mals” as they are called, serve as bomb-sniffers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Of the six members of the elite U.S. Navy Seals team who descended on Osama Bin Laden’s Pakistan home to kill him in 2011, only one name was revealed: Cairo, a Belgian Malinois, according to news reports.
“Having a dog is one of the best tools out there,” Barnes said.
They have used Ace to find missing persons, do drug searches; in Wakefield a few years ago, police requested assistance after a man assaulted an officer and fled.
“Ace found him under a bush in 10 minutes,” he said “It would have taken 10 officers three hours to find the guy.”
In another case, a 7-year-old Lynnfield boy went missing and he was found by Ace within minutes hiding in the family’s backyard.
“Having a dog is an amazing tool,” he said.
Barnes started his law enforcement career at the Peabody Police Department in 1997 and joined the Lynnfield force in 2014 where he works the overnight shift.
Barnes served in the U.S. Navy during the Gulf War in 1986. After his tour of duty, he left. But returned to serve in the U.S. Army.
“I liked the military and police work is very similar,” he said. “It’s a way to serve the community. Most of my calls are helping people in Lynnfield.”