K-9 Jett has become his handler’s personal dog, with a more low-key new job chasing squirrels and protecting the family.
By Ronni Newton
K-9 Jett earned a reputation locally, statewide, and nationally for his work with the West Hartford Police Department, and after a storied career with many accolades the jet-black German Shepherd retired effective Jan. 1, 2018.
Sgt. Tom Lazure, who has been Jett’s handler since the dog joined the West Hartford Police Department at the age of 1 in 2011, was promoted from officer to sergeant in December.
Lazure, who joined the West Hartford Police Department in 2004, is now a supervisor, with duties that include managing the K-9 unit, but the decision was made to retire the dog somewhat early rather than retrain him to work with another handler.
K-9 Jett, now 7, was born in the Czech Republic and was trained through the Connecticut Police Work Dog Association in patrol work, narcotics, and evidence recovery.
Together Lazure and Jett received many prestigious awards, including the Daniel Wasson Memorial Canine Award (twice) and were honored at Fenway Park in 2015 by the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association and its Foundation as one of six “Hero K-9’s” in New England during a ceremony prior to a Red Sox game. They were also the People’s Choice Top K-9 Unit in the New England region, Lazure said.
Since the Wasson Award was established in 1993, K-9 Jett is one of only two K-9s to receive the honor more than once.
Jett earned the “Hero K-9” award for locating and tracking an armed suspect who had tried to shoot a Hartford Police officer. K-9 Jett, under the direction of Lazure, tracked the dangerous felon who was a considerable distance away and outside the perimeter. The suspect was taken down without any injury to officers and the gun was recovered.
K-9 Jett has had many other successes throughout his career. A few highlights provided by Lazure include:
- His first “find” was a missing juvenile who had tried to commit suicide by overdosing and was hiding alone in the woods in the middle of the winter. It was freezing cold and the juvenile was seizing as a result of the overdose, and Lazure said likely would have died if not found.
- K-9 Jett was deployed on I-84 and along with Lazure took down a suspect who had stolen a vehicle and assaulted police officers.
- K-9 Jett tracked and located suspects who had broken into hundreds of vehicles throughout the Hartford area and assisted in their apprehension.
- K-9 Jett, who had been inside Lazure’s cruiser, was deployed to chase down a sexual assault suspect who was attempting to flee arresting officers. Jett helped take the suspect into custody.
- K-9 Jett located and apprehended a suspect who had stolen a car and crashed it into a business. During the chase both Lazure and Jett fell into icy waters and became submerged, but were still able to apprehend the fleeing felon about a mile away from the crime scene.
- Lazure and Jett located a vehicle suspected of being involved in a shooting. Officers drew their guns and commanded the occupants to exit. Guns as well as drugs were found in the vehicle. Lazure said that the suspect admitted he did not flee because he heard K-9 Jett barking. Lazure said he told the suspect “it was his first good decision behind a long list of bad ones that he would be held accountable for.”
- Recently K-9 Jett put his evidence-finding skills to the test, locating two flat-screen TVs that suspect in a home invasion had hidden in the woods, buried under leaves. Electronics and other valuables were also recovered.
- Also in the past year, K-9 Jett located a cognitively-impaired man who had gone missing from a long-term care facility in West Hartford. Staff at the facility did not think the man could have made it into the nearby woods due to his physical disabilities, but just 7 minutes after being deployed Jett found the man, who had indeed made it to the dense woods and had fallen, sustaining minor injuries.
Lazure, who is extremely proud of his partner, said that these are just a few of the highlights of K-9 Jett’s career. K-9 units are a regional resource, and the pair have responded to incidents throughout the area including in Suffield, Middletown, Vernon, and Waterbury. They have also assisted the FBI, DEA, Hartford Shooting Task Force, and narcotics units and other agencies statewide.
“In all K-9 Jett has located dozens of wanted suspects, recovered copious amounts of narcotics, recovered several illegal weapons, and found several missing people. He’s well known throughout the entire state, has a fan base in West Hartford among citizens and children, and is known nationally in the K-9 community,” said Lazure.
K-9s also work closely with the Community Relations Division, and Jett has also been involved in community activities at schools, with scout troops, at the Citizen’s Police Academy, and even at children’s birthday parties.
He has been featured in several books including “K-9 Commando,” and was featured in the Connecticut Wolfpack K-9 Heroes calendar.
Lazure said it was bittersweet knowing his partner would retire after his promotion.
“It’s a tough pill to swallow when I was told Jett would have to retire, but with new roles comes new responsibilities so I have to respect the decision that has been made,” Lazure said.
“[Lazure] now has many different responsibilities as a supervisor,” acting West Hartford Police Chief Dan Coppinger said. He praised the work that Lazure and Jett had done, but said that in his new role Lazure can’t be tied up doing a K-9 track.
“Jett was at the end of his career for the most part,” Coppinger said, although he may have had a few good years left. He said that when the department advertises for a K-9 handler position, they request that the handlers refrain from the promotion process.
“He’s had his dog for quite some time. They become a family,” Coppinger said of Lazure and Jett. When a handler and a K-9 become partners, the intent is for them to work together for the dog’s entire career.
“We want a good run from the handlers,” said Coppinger. “At the end of the dog’s career officers can get involved in the promotion process.”
While K-9s have been retrained to work with new handlers, it’s a long and difficult process for all involved, Coppinger said. “It’s heartbreaking to see the dog be taken away from his owner.”
Instead K-9 Jett will remain with Lazure and become his family pet.
“I’ve already started spoiling him with treats and toys. He’s earned it,” said Lazure. “His new role is now checking the perimeter of my home looking for squirrels to chase. No more looking for bad guys.”
Lazure said that going to work without his partner feels empty, but revealed that Jett has another important job now.
“He’s going to stay home with my wife, who’s pregnant and protect my family now. So he still has one more job to do.”
The West Hartford Police Department now has just one K-9 team, Off. Nick Roman and K-9 Axel. Coppinger said that another K-9 would not be procured right away.
While much of the cost of a K-9 is funded through grant money and the department’s asset forfeiture program, there are additional costs and “it’s a tough budget year,” Coppinger said. West Hartford Police are able to rely on mutual aid when a K-9 is needed and Axel is not on duty.
The Town of West Hartford is just beginning a search for a new police chief following the retirement of Tracey Gove in November, and Coppinger said it will be up to the new chief to decide whether or not to obtain another K-9.
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