Fairfield police expect a new K-9 unit will help take a bite out of crime -- but not the town's coffers.

The Police Commission on Wednesday unanimously approved establishing a police dog program, which Chief Gary MacNamara said has already received over $20,000 in donations, including a $10,000 commitment from General Electric, headquartered here in town, and $6,000 from People's United Bank.

"I feel pretty strong in my support," MacNamara said. "Now is the time to move forward with a K-9 unit."

The chief said the unit will provide the department with another crime-fighting resource, while acknowledging that the department's earlier uneven attempts at operating a K-9 unit may have left commission members skeptical about this latest effort. Previous problems arose, he said, over federal regulations regarding compensating the officer for off-duty care of the dog. "What many departments do now is have a set fee per day," he said, which would come to about $4,800 per year for the K-9 handler and has been agreed to by the local police union.

The initial costs for starting the K-9 unit, including acquiring a dog, training and equipment, food and veterinary care would be about $15,758, with annual recurring costs of $1,030. MacNamara said police officials fully expect the recurring costs will be covered by donations. Dr. Joan Poster, a local veterinarian, has agreed to donate her services and provide medications and necessary vaccines at a discount.

Sgt. Andre Velez, who is in charge of the Norwalk Police Department's K-9 unit, said a lot of training is involved for the dog and handler, but that is needed to make the unit a success. Norwalk has four dogs, he said, and they have helped the department recoup more than $1.9 million in drug forfeiture money. He said police dogs are also a wonderful way to bond with the community, adding that the schoolchildren in Norwalk donated four bulletproof vests for that city's dogs.

"It's another tool," Velez said. "I can't tell you how many times we've gone to a call and not had to deploy the dog" because the suspects will simply give up or stop resisting when a dog appears on the scene, adding to officers' safety.

Lt. Keith Broderick said the Fairfield police union fully supports the creation of a K-9 unit and pointed to more than 20 officers in the room at the meeting as a sign of support.

Commission Chairman Don Kleber, a retired FBI agent, said he has had a number of experiences with police dogs, all of them positive. "They've been a real asset to the communities and the law enforcement that they serve," he said.

MacNamara said a committee will be set up to select the department's K-9 officer. "That's the next step," he said, to make sure that the right individual is selected. The committee would be made up of officers from the department and certified handlers, with the ultimate selection made by MacNamara.