Police department welcomes K-9 officer Pike
| By Carley Dangona
Pictured above: K-9 officer Pike and Middle School Resource Officer Eric Johnson of the West Springfield Police Department.
Reminder Publications photo by Carley Dangona
WEST SPRINGFIELD The newest addition to the Police force is a new breed of officer literally. The department welcomed Pike, a Labrador retriever, in June.
Pike works alongside Middle School Resource Officer Eric Johnson. The position was created in the fiscal year 2015 budget with its $60,000 salary split between the Police and School department budgets. A donation of $2,100 contributed to the $8,500 cost of purchasing and training Pike. The remaining $6,400 was funded from the drug money forfeiture account of the Police Department.
A trained drug sniffer, one-year-old Pike will also work on drug investigations when needed. He is also skilled at tracking lost children.
Shirley Letellier donated the money in honor of her late husband, Elmer Letellier.
"We love animals. We had discussed it [making a donation] a lot of times, for two to three years," she said.
Initially, she thought the money would purchase a vest for a police dog.
"It pleased me greatly [learning that a K-9 would be purchased] because I know the dog is what he [Elmer] would have wanted most of all."
In addition to the $2,100, Letellier donated $400 to Massachusetts Vest-a-Dog Inc., which purchased an extensive trauma kit for both Pike and Donn.
Johnson spent one week training with Pike at a K-9 academy in Pennsylvania. He explained the goal was to train him to use the commands to communicate with his four-legged partner, to learn how Pike works and how to best motivate him.
"It was fun. Pike was the only one not barking," he said.
Pike spends 24/7 with Johnson, living with the officer, his wife, three young children and a chocolate Labrador retriever at their home.
"Pike gets along great. They love him," Johnson said of his family.
Johnson previously applied for the high school resource officer position. Prior to becoming a police officer, Johnson worked as a permanent teaching substitute, a lifeguard and a camp counselor.
He studied criminal justice at the Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut. He became a police office in 2002, working at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He has been with the West Side Police Department since 2007.
Pike joins fellow K-9 officer Donn, a seven-year-old Dutch shepard.
"This is great. It gives the department more tools to use," Officer Mark Cote, Donn's partner, said.
According to Cote, Donn is a trained patrol and narcotics dog. To date, he has recovered $1 million in drugs. Donn has been with the department for just over six years.
"The opportunities are of course multiplied by two to interact with the community, especially the student population," Mayor Edward Sullivan said. He added that the addition of Pike creates an "advanced presence" in the town and, on the school level, will "establish prevention."
Police Chief Ronald Campurciani and Johnson explained that the goal of having an officer at the middle school is to build a rapport with and to engage students while creating a familiarity with the officer's presence. Johnson will also speak to elementary school students about his job and Pike's role in the department.
Johnson said, "I think it will break the ice," adding that students would naturally be interested in the dog and come over to say hello whereas they might not approach the officer otherwise due to shyness or hesitation.
Sullivan explained the difference between the two K-9's breeds. He said that a lab is less likely to jump on a student to obtain a backpack if it finds drug evidence, but a shepard won't hesitate. Overall, many children are familiar with the Labrador breed, dogs that are known for their friendliness. Shepherds, however, can be intimidating dogs.
Johnson said the difference in behavior is one reason he was interested in working with a retriever. Pike is crate-trained. Donn is kennel-trained. Johnson wanted the confidence that his family and their pet could be comfortable around the dog.
"I am pleased with the way it all turned out," Letellier said.