UTICA, NY (WUTR/WFXV/WPNY) – The Utica Police Department inducted a new officer into their ranks on Monday, September 18 – but this one won’t be your usual Utica Police officer. Instead, it’ll have four legs and a tail.

“Officer Penny” was donated to the department by Finger Lakes Doodles in Hilton to be the department’s new therapy dog and was “sworn in” by Mayor Robert Palmieri on Monday, September 18. The idea for the department’s newest member came from Officer Marissa Vomer, who has been heading the department’s Crisis Response Team. Vomer was also instrumental in handpicking Penny for the department based on temperament.

“Having a therapy dog present during a crisis can help people overcome fear, anxiety, and it can literally help save lives,” Vomer said in a statement. “I look forward to taking Penny on as a partner and, from what I’ve seen, Penny is up to the challenge as well. The ultimate goal is to improve our community and to more effectively work with persons in crisis. I think the impact can be huge and meaningful. I’m excited to get to work and I hope the city will fall in love with Penny the same way I have.”

Potential functions for Penny to perform in her capacity include:

  • Sitting with victims and witnesses to reduce anxiety and make them more comfortable speaking
  • Calm persons in crisis
  • Help officers deal with traumatic experiences
  • Assist in schools with mental health crises, bereavement counseling and other crisis management situations
  • Help police connect with the community by appearing in demonstrations at schools and community events.

“The role of police departments and police officers continue to expand in our community,” Utica Police Chief Mark Williams said in a statement, “and we need to make sure we have the tools and the training to provide the services our community needs. The Crisis Response Team has been one of our most successful initiatives, and I’m sure that its new member will be as dedicated and capable as her colleagues have been.“