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December 29, 2015

Camden County Police mourn loss of record-setting K-9 officer

'Zero' apprehended 68 suspects during law enforcement career

Police Dogs
Zero_K9 /Courtesy of the Camden County Police

Camden County Police Lt. Zsakhiem James poses with his late K9 partner Zero, a Czech Shepherd who set the New Jersey record for apprehensions.

Camden County Police Lt. Zsakhiem James admits he was "a little worried" whether Zero would meet his expectations when the Czech Shepherd became his partner eight years ago.

But Zero washed away those doubts as quickly as he apprehended criminals.

Zero, who died Monday at age 12, apprehended a New Jersey-record 68 suspects during his time in the K-9 Unit. After each apprehension, Zero received his favorite treat – a 20-piece chicken nugget meal from McDonald's.

"Gotta get the taste of the bad guy out of his mouth," James said.

Zero's most memorable apprehension came in 2010, when he sniffed out a stabbing suspect who was hiding in the crawl ceiling of a building police had searched extensively.

"In no time flat, Zero indicated that the guy was up in the ceiling," James said. "The guy was hiding beneath the insulation. We put Zero in the roof and told the guy to come out. The guy decided he wasn't going to come out."

That's when Zero and James entered the ceiling and attempted to apprehend the suspect. But the sheet rock broke and Zero fell ... right onto a bed. James tussled with the suspect before he pushed the suspect out from the ceiling.

The suspect ran out of the building. James pursued, but slipped on the stabbing victim's blood and fell. Zero saved the day by chasing and bringing down the suspect.

"He was an amazing dog," James said.

As good as Zero was at sniffing out criminals, James said his best performance was as an ambassador for the police department. The pair made countless visits to local schools and community events – efforts to build bridges of trust within the community.

"Zero has the ability to go into schools and build ... that community aspect where the police are the people and the people are police," James said. "We just showed each other that we're here for the same reason – we're here to build a better community."

Because of Zero, James said children routinely approach him on the street, incorrectly – but innocently – calling him Officer Zero.

On cue, James said, Zero could act cute and cuddly with the children. But if necessary, Zero could revert to a policing mentality on command.

"He's truly missed," James said. "He set an example for all the K-9 officers in my unit for what can happen when you put the time and work in and study your craft and strive to be the best. My hope is that will be his legacy."