The Police Memorial at the corner of Montgomery Street and Marin Boulevard is a holy place, made sacred by the men and women who have come here to commemorate the lives of fallen police officers. The plague beneath the larger-than-life bronze statue of a patrol officer reads: In memory of deceased members of the Jersey City Police Department.
Over the years, police officers, public officials, and ordinary citizens have come to this place to mourn the passing of officers who have died in the line of duty, most recently Lt. Christopher Robateau, Det. Marc Anthony DiNardo, and Det. Melvin Santiago.
But on the cool evening of June 12, they came to commemorate another sacred life, a companion who, though not a conventional cop, did his duty, won honors, and won the hearts and respect of everyone who met or worked with him.
K-9 Astro, a German shepherd, died suddenly on June 10 after serving the city for eight years, leaving his human companion, Officer George Crispina, heartbroken.
A week ago Tuesday, police vehicles blocked the street make way for the scores of cops from throughout Jersey City as well as others from Bergen and Essex counties to remember and praise Astro for a job well done.
Officers in dress uniforms gathered in formation to pay their respects. This was the first ceremony of its kind held for a K-9 dog in Jersey City history.
Astro had been honored by the JCPD for work as a patrol dog and his work with explosives. The Union City Police Department attributed to him the finding of a gun, which was part of an arrest in a carjacking case.
“Astro was an amazing dog and a good companion,” said Councilman Richard Rivera. “He was loved by kids and he appeared at events in schools along with his handler. This is a big loss for the city.”
Rivera, a retired police officer, praised Crispina for doing “an amazing job with Astro.”
Rivera recalled playing around with the dog two weeks ago at the Office of Emergency Management.
“Astro was a great community dog, and amazing friend to the boys and girls in our public schools,” he said. “We will miss him.”
“Astro did everything we asked,” Crispina told some of the people in the crowd.
Other officers defined the dog as having a kind heart and a good disposition. Many people knew him because of his works in the schools.
“Astro was a great community dog, and amazing friend to the boys and girls in our public schools.” – Daniel Rivera
A death from natural causes
Astro’s death was a shock because the dog suddenly lost consciousness. A tumor was discovered in his spleen when he was brought to a local animal hospital.
The tumor was spreading and not treatable. He was euthanized a short time later.
The half-hour ceremony included police officers and K-9 unit dogs from other parts of the state. A box containing Astro’s ashes was driven up to the statue site and greeted by officers, who then carried the small red box to the podium amid a chorus of bagpipes. Top brass from the Jersey City Department offered words of sympathy and praise.
Police Chaplain Kevin Carter gave a eulogy for the departed dog.
“Heavenly father, thanks for the opportunity to come together as a law enforcement family and friends. In the very beginning of your scriptures you talk about how you created all living things, and most especially us humans,” Carter said. “But you gave us the dominion of all animals. And we’re grateful for that, because without them we would be lost. Today, we’re gathered here for a very special one of your creations, K-9 Astro, that has gone home to you too soon.”
Police Chief Mike Kelly also praised Astro.
“When you see these K-9s they are such beautiful animals,” Kelly said. “Astro resembled strength, lioness, and courage. He was just a beautiful animal. Then we talk about purpose – the purpose was instilled by his handler, Officer Crispina. He instilled the love of work, and the love of bond. That’s what made this animal tremendous and a tremendous asset to the Jersey City Police Department.”
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.