By John J. Tassoni, Jr.
In January of this year, The Smithfield Times featured an article that paid tribute to a fearless K9 police officer who passed away a few months earlier.
Honoring Paxson—A Very Special Canine by Patti Shaffer told of this dog’s service to the town and the unwavering bond he shared with his handler, Patrol Officer Mike Gilmore. Paxson was relieved of police duty when the Smithfield Police department’s K9 unit was suspended. The article told of the extensive training the dog received, and his many contributions to police work.
Following the dissolution of the K9 unit, Paxson was no longer the property of the Smithfield Police Department. Officer Gilmore purchased him from the town so that Paxson could remain with his handler and the family that loved him. It should be noted that Officer Gilmore spoke to the reporter on his own time, not while on duty.
I had hoped that the article would provide an understanding of the unique work of K9 police officers, and perhaps give the police department’s administrators cause to consider restoring the K9 unit. I even offered to establish a “Go Fund Me” page to raise money to honor of the K9 officer.
The opposite occurred. The police administrators were furious about the account of Paxson’s service, and furious with me for printing the story. I was told that the K9 unit would not be reinstated, and that the article was a violation of police jurisdiction. The police also contacted the writer of the article and wanted her testimony on what transpired during the interview—they were conducting an internal investigation. Officer Gilmore was given a written reprimand for speaking to us, which he did on his own time and when the dog was no longer town property but his own personal pet.
The Smithfield Times retained an attorney for this matter. The first amendment of the United States Constitution assures that no law should prohibit freedom of speech or of the press, so I knew I was within all legal rights to publish the article.
The problem now pertains to my rights as a publisher. Recently, a Providence Journal advertisement made claim to reviving the Smithfield Police Department’s K9 unit, and used a photo lifted directly from my magazine in the ad.
As a longtime community servant, and one who introduced several pieces of legislation at the State House dealing with animal protection rights, I felt it was my responsibility to do my part to uphold the level of service we have come to expect from the police department and to help them in their efforts.
As a publisher, I believe Paxson’s story is unique to the town, and a fitting tribute to an officer and his dog who served the town well.
I want to go on record as saying that I applaud the group that is raising money for a new K9 officer. However, we should first honor Paxson, the one we had that served our town well, before raising funds for a new one. This is what Coventry, Providence and the State Police did.
Furthermore, what will happen if funds are raised for a new K9 unit and police administrators decide not to revive the program?
Now we have an even bigger problem.