CAPSTONE: Cop’s Best Friend

By Alex Johanesen —

Nay Nay

The uniform gives him a regal look. It’s perfectly fitted, buttoning tightly around his neck. He’s handsome; brown hair cut short. Easily over 6’0, he stands with a practiced upright posture. When he speaks, he knowledgably does so, but with an urgency of realizing there isn’t enough time to say everything that needs to be said.

And so Officer Eric Petersen stands just outside of Liberty Humane Society’s eighth annual Bark in the Park on October 16 at Church Square Park in Hoboken.

“Would you like to see him?” His eyes light up.

Officer Petersen swings open the backseat door to his patrol car. People and their furry friends in close proximity stop and stare. A gargantuan German Shepherd blocks the opening, not that most would willingly attempt to get past him. The black, brown and tan bulk barks. Officer Petersen rubs underneath the dog’s ears.

“And this is Rommel,” Petersen says proudly.

Rommel, and Officer Petersen, are prominent members of the Jersey City Police Department’s Bomb Squad, sometimes assisting all of Hudson County when needed. His canine abilities allow him to detect explosives when no human can.

They have worked together since graduating on April 12, 2004 from the New Jersey State Police Canine Academy. They share a bond that extends beyond the workplace however.

“I take him home and on vacation. I have full responsibility of him. You get them when they’re 12 months. He’s about 9 years-old now. He’s one of the oldest dogs in the K-9 Unit,” said Petersen, who added, “When he’s retired I’ll start picking up the bills. They’ll retire him to me.”

The experienced duo has been together through a lot.

On July 4, 2009 at 3:25 a.m. a dump truck blew through a red light and bashed directly into the officer’s marked SUV at the intersection of Marin Boulevard and 12th Street. Petersen was taken to Jersey City Medical Center while Rommel went to NYC Veterinary Specialists 24-Hour Emergency Animal Hospital in Manhattan. Petersen suffered neck and back pain but Rommel seemed to be unharmed. It was a close call. A scary one.

But Petersen insists Rommel loves his job.

“It’s a game. Every day it’s play time. These dogs love to go to work,” he said.

When the two aren’t detecting bombs, they participate in a lot of child-targeted programs.

“We show how the dogs work and reach out to the kids. Gangs are bonding more with kids than cops are.” As if that wasn’t bad enough, Petersen stated, “Children are also the main target of terrorists.”

And that’s the reason Officer Petersen, Rommel and other officers and their K-9 companions are there that day, with a table covered in Kevlar vests, helmets, and training equipment for the K-9 unit. They want to reach out to the public.

After closing the door to the SUV, Petersen returns to the table where a young mother and her son of about 8 have begun inspecting bulletproof vests. He begins talking and motioning to the things in front of him. The little boy is spellbound.