Still on patrol, still serving his community
Scarborough Reserve Officer Joe Giacomantonio patrols the beaches to make sure dog owners are leashing their dogs when they are supposed to and making sure dogs are not bothering other beach-goers or piping plovers, a state endangered shore bird.
Last summer, however, Giacomantonio was working with a much different type of dog. Prior to taking the temporary reserve officer role, Giacomantonio spent a year as a bomb dog handler at the United States Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq. Giacomantonio and his partner, Bella, a Chesapeake Bay retriever mix, arrived in July and were one of 100 K-9 teams contracted by AMK9 to protect the embassy. The teams were made up of former military or law enforcement officers from across the country.
“Our responsibility was to protect the entry control points to the embassy itself and the check points in the green zone, or international zone,” Giacomantonio said July 9. The international zone, he explained, is a “highly protected area” where the prime minister has his office and where many international embassies are located.
The job, Giacomantonio said, entailed making sure everyone who came to the embassy or the international zone – whether it be on foot, bike, or by vehicle – did not have explosives, as well as making sure deliveries of food, fuel or other items were also explosive free.
“There were no law enforcement duties,” he said. “We were sort of second security, but our main role was making sure no explosives got into the embassy.”
In April Giacomantonio retired from the Scarborough Police Department after close to 30 years to take the overseas job. Giacomantonio, the department’s longtime community resource officer, got his start in Scarborough in 1985, and soon became one of the department’s first K-9 officers in the late 1980s.
“I always had an interest in dogs and enjoyed working with them,” Giacomantonio said of the reason for taking the job in Iraq.
Giacomantonio said despite being thousands of miles away, with the advances in technology it was easy to keep in touch with family back home. During a tour of duty in the military in the 1980s, Giacomantonio said he had to rely on mail and the occasional cassette tape to stay in touch with his family. This time, however, Giacomantonio had Internet access and was able to call home every night through voice over Internet.
“It made it really easy to keep in touch,” he said.
Although he didn’t have time to experience the Iraqi culture, Giacomantonio said during his time in Baghdad he learned a lot about explosive detection and K-9 training techniques and was able to take online classes for his criminal justice degree.
His contract, however, ended early after security and safety concerns emerged around the embassy and in Baghdad. Giacomantonio came home, but Bella is still overseas awaiting her next assignment.
It didn’t take long for Giacomantonio to find a new job. When he returned stateside, it just so happened that Scarborough Police were looking for reserve officers for summer beach patrols.
Giacomantonio was more than happy to return to the department, a place he missed while in Iraq.
“I left Scarborough on good terms both with the management and my fellow employees,” he said. “Leaving here made me realize how good I had it. I enjoyed working in this organization in this community.”
As the department’s community resource officer, Giacomantonio started Scarborough’s D.A.R.E. (Drug Awareness and Resistance Education) program, as well as the Police Explorer’s Program in 1995 and Volunteers in Police Services Program in 2004. He led community outreach and safety awareness programming and helped with many other police initiatives.
Most of his interactions with the public as the community resource officer were positive, Giacomantonio said. The same could be said about his work so far making sure people are obeying the animal control ordinance, the piping plover ordinance and other rules for proper beach behavior.
“I am really impressed with the response in general. I’ve had no shouting matches, but there have been some people who didn’t want to get off the beach. For the most part people are very compliant. There have been very few violations. It has worked out really well.”
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