New Castle News

November 8, 2013

Former Penn Power building hosts K-9 training

Debbie Wachter
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — What’s all that barking about?

Dogs barking in cadence echoed through the downtown.

Their baying was coming from the parking lot of the former Penn Power building downtown on North Jefferson Street, where officers from five municipal departments had gathered with their eager-to-work drug-sniffing canines for training.

The dogs were confined inside the individual cruisers until their turns came to run loose, one at a time, through the expanse of the vacant building. They were instructed to find narcotics hidden in various locales inside.

The drill also gave practice in finding potential criminals who might hide out to escape police.

New Castle patrolman Joshua Covert hid in an office as officer John Charmo unleashed his sleek black German Shepherd named Diesel and ordered him to grab Covert.

As Covert stepped out of the office in a protective suit giving him the look of a red and blue marshmallow, the dog lunged at Covert, grabbed onto the sleeve and continued tugging. When Charmo gave Diesel the German commands to sit and stay, the dog promptly released Covert’s arm, stopped and sat.

The training was hosted by the New Castle Police Department and organized by Charmo, who is the officer in charge of the city’s K-9 division.

Police and their dogs attended from New Castle and Neshannock and Mahoning townships in Lawrence County, and Aliquippa and Ohio Township in Beaver County.

Covert explained that during the exercises, the officers hide narcotics that have been seized in drug arrests and approved for the training by the courts. The evidence is documented so it does not get lost, he explained. The drugs used in the detail include marijuana, crack, cocaine, methamphetamine, pills and heroin.

All of the drug-sniffing canines are certified to detect all of those substances, Covert said. “Even the pills are very hard but they have an odor to them and they’ll hit on them.”

“We do building searches to let the dog find someone hiding in it,” New Castle patrolman John Colella explained. “Building searches are tough. There are so many different places for someone to hide.”

The Penn Power building, owned by Paul Lynch, has been vacant most of the 13 years since the utility company moved out, and the police find it ideal for their dog training.

“This is a good place to train,” said Colella, whose German shepherd, Champ, was with him. “It’s a big area to cover and there are so many doorways you can work with.”

The training, conducted several times a year, helps the officers make sure they are proficient in their abilities with the dogs, and that the dogs are trained using different scenarios, Covert said.

Aldo, Covert’s dog, is a 2-year-old German shepherd from the Czech Republic. Aldo was purchased with the help of a grant from the Ben Roethlisberger Foundation, established by Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and his family to support service dogs. The dog had been in the United States only two weeks before he started preparing for his call to duty, Covert said.

New Castle’s officers and their dogs are certified yearly by the American Working Dog Association.

Shirt sales to benefit dogs

The New Castle police K-9 unit has launched a fundraising campaign.

Patrolman Joshua Covert, who has custody of one of the city’s five police dogs, said the department is selling special K-9 T-shirts featuring a pawprint logo. Money raised will be used to buy equipment for the canine unit.

The shirts, which come in a variety of colors, are $15 and may be ordered by picking up a form at city police clerk’s office or by calling (724) 656-3570, or by emailing patrolman John Colella at