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Canine officers issued badges to raise awareness of colon cancer

Date: 3/21/2013

By G. Michael Dobbs

SPRINGFIELD — The police officers who work with a canine partner wear a badge and now their dogs wear one, too.

The badges, though, have an additional meaning. They are to call attention to Colon Cancer Awareness Month and the importance of being screened.

The funding for the badges, which were issued to the dogs on March 15, came from Hampden County Physicians Associates LLC (HCPA) and the son and widow of the late Springfield Police Chief Ernest Stelzer, who died of colon cancer in 1994.

Deborah Stelzer is the nurse manager for HCPA's colon rectal specialist Dr. Jan. Wojcik. Scott Stelzer is a canine officer for the Springfield police.

Mike Houff, COO of the practice, said that colon cancer is a preventable disease and can be curable. The medical group wanted to honor the late chief with their donation of the badges.

Deborah Stelzer said that HCPA has a five-minute free telephone screening for colon cancer and interested people should call 732-4369.

Police Commissioner William Fitchet explained this is the first time the dogs have been issued a badge. Their officers attached them to their collars during the brief ceremony.

Fitchet added the department now has seven canines and he is seeking funding to add two more. That way, he explained to Reminder Publications, there would be three animals available each shift, "the optimum number for the department."

The department had been down to just three dogs, he said, and recently added four.

Fitchet said the canines are not only important for tracking purposes but can assist in "every unit of the department." They are also in public relations efforts, he added.

The dogs have an active duty life of seven to nine years, he said, depending upon when the department acquires them. They undergo extensive and on-going training.


The importance of the police dogs was underscored by an incident on March 17.

According to Police Sgt. John Delaney, "On March 17 at 12:15 a.m. officers were sent to a home on Garfield Street for an unknown subject trying to break into a residence. When the officers arrived they spoke with the complainant who stated that he scared away a suspect he heard trying to force a rear door and screen open to gain access into his dwelling. Officers checked the neighborhood with negative results."

Delaney continued, "K-9 Officer Scott Stelzer sat in his K-9 car with his partner 'Blek' with the engine off on Garfield Street watching and waiting. As time passed Stelzer spotted a suspect in the shadows running down a driveway further down Garfield Street. Stelzer approached this suspect and when the prowler looked in his direction he ran off faster. The K-9 officer chased the suspect on foot, observing him dropping items to the ground. Stelzer chased him into some rear yards and had him trapped by large stockade fences. The suspect then turned towards Stelzer and attacked him with his fists and possibly a knife. Stelzer took him into custody after a brief struggle. The officer could observe that the suspect in fact was armed with a knife. Stelzer observed that the suspect's hands were covered in blood along with the knife he was brandishing."

After the arrest, there was a 9-1-1 call that came in from another house on Garfield Street alerting police to a home invasion.

Delaney said, "The officers responded right away and discovered an 84 year-old male victim suffering from a stab wound caused by a suspect who just broke in to his home. The officers provided first aid to the victim who was stabbed in the abdomen. The investigating officers spoke with the victim's wife who stated that the unknown male forced his way into their home and demanded money. The female victim went to get him money when the thug attacked the male and stabbed him. The victim's wife gave him all the money she had and the suspect then went through the house and stole other items and fled — that's when Stelzer observed him flee their home. The officers, along with 'Blek,' found money and jewelry that had been stolen from this residence. The victim was transported to the hospital by ambulance and is in good condition."

Roberto Hill Jr., 19, of 14 Arbutus St., was charged with two counts of home invasion, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, mayhem, having a default warrant, assault on a police officer and resisting arrest.