Officer Tom Lazure and K-9 Jett, nominated for apprehending an armed suspect who had fired shots at another police officer, were chosen from among six finalists.
By Ronni Newton
Exceptional work tracking and capturing an armed suspect who had fired at an innocent victim and a police officer earned K-9 Jett and his handler, West Hartford Police Officer Tom Lazure, a spot in the finals for “K-9 Hero of the Year” honors, and thanks to the public’s input through a people’s choice contest the team has earned the top award.
Lazure and Jett will receive the “Federal Law Enforcement Officer’s Association K-9 Hero of 2014” award in a pre-game ceremony on the field at Boston’s Fenway Park prior to the Red Sox vs. White Sox game on July 27, 2015.
Lazure, who has received numerous other accolades for his work with Jett, said he is honored to have been chosen.
“If you take a look at all of the other officers’ stories, they’re all remarkable,” he said. “Although at the same time I wish [my case] never happened, we caught a potential cop killer. If Jett and I had not been working that night who knows what would have happened.”
The particular incident for which Lazure and Jett have been honored took place on July 31, 2014. Officers from surrounding towns typically respond when a nearby department needs them, especially if a K-9 team is needed, and that was the case the night that Hartford Police stopped a carjacking suspect who had initially fired at an innocent victim.
According to Lazure, the armed suspect pointed a 9mm handgun at a Hartford Police officer and fired several shots but the gun malfunctioned. The Hartford officer returned fire but missed, and the suspect fled into the darkness.
Lazure and Jett responded to the scene and were deployed with the Hartford SWAT team.
“The scene was very chaotic, with lots of police,” Lazure recalled. He said that all suspects give off a “fear odor,” a special adrenaline that police dogs really like.
“What amazes me is that Hartford Police had established a perimeter and thought they had him, but Jett found him outside. He had still gotten through. Jett bit him and brought him down,” said Lazure. The suspect is still in jail, he said.
Sergeant Eric Rocheleau, a former K-9 officer, was the one who nominated Lazure and Jett for the award. “Tommy has done a really great job creating the dog that he has,” Rocheleau said. “As far as nominating him, the case that he did was impressive to me, being a former handler, knowing the stress they went through.”
Lazure said this was just one of the successful cases he and Jett have had together. “He loves his job, loves what he’s doing. He can smell that fear,” Lazure said.
“Anytime you go into the city there’s a lot of concrete [which can mask the scent], the guy is armed. You’re looking for someone who’ll probably kill you. The guy ran beyond the perimeter, but Tommy trusted his dog. He had a split second to decide … and it’s either the dog or somebody’s husband. In this case the decision was good and no one got hurt except the bad guy,” Rocheleau said. “That, to me, is a successful case.”
Police Chief Tracey Gove said that West Hartford has a history of a “very strong, progressive K-9 program,” but praised Lazure and Jett for their exceptional work and success. They are also only the second team to ever win the Daniel Wasson Memorial Canine Award twice.
“Our K-9 officers are constantly forced into dangerous situations – not only the inherent dangers of being a police officer, but more critical situations because they have the dogs,” Gove said. Lazure and Jett are hard workers who have “consistently done a great job,” he said.
In addition to criminals, Jett also finds drugs as well as missing people. Lazure said he once tracked a young girl who had run away, was hiding in the woods, and had overdosed. What could have been a tragedy was averted.
“It’s a very rewarding experience. He finds lost people and bad guys,” Lazure said.
Lazure has been handling Jett, who is now 5, since 2011. “He’s very popular, and has gotten numerous state awards,” Lazure said. Jett stands out as an all-black German Shepherd, but he also stands out because of his drive to work. “He’s just got it,” Lazure said.
“His job is really very simple,” said Lazure. To the dog, finding a suspect, or a lost person, is like a game he plays for a reward.
And Jett’s favorite reward? “He gets a burger from the GoldRoc diner,” Lazure said. “He knows the second we pull into that parking lot, he’s doing circles in the back of the car.” Jett favors a plain burger, and Lazure said that GoldRoc employees know him well and usually donate the burger to thank him for his service.
Many K-9s are trained with toys, and given a toy or a pizza, Lazure said that Jett will choose the toy. But Lazure learned that there was something Jett preferred. “When I’m at home and grilling burgers, he salivates,” Lazure said.
Gove wants to thank the public for voting for Lazure and Jett to receive this honor. “We couldn’t have done it without their help and we really appreciate that,” he said.
Jett and Lazure will be on the Fenway Park field together on Monday, and Lazure and his guests, as well as a group of about 50 from the Connecticut Police Work Dog Association, will stay to watch the game. Jett will likely spend that time in the specially temperature-controlled police car, where he will be more comfortable.
“But he will get extra burgers from me after the game,” Lazure said.
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