By Elaine Van Develde
It was 14 years ago that I had the pleasure of being introduced to Craig Bahrs, a young narcotics police officer in Middletown who had just been paired with the department’s newest addition, K-9 Officer Jack, a blonde German shepherd with brown patches.
Chief John Pollinger brought me out to Bahrs’ K-9 vehicle that was just pulling up. I looked up on that sunny day and saw a bright smile emanating from the driver’s seat and a beautiful dog with the same demeanor. I got a respectful handshake and a smile from the young officer and a couple of generous licks and a paw from Jack.
In fact, the chief joked that Jack had such a friendly disposition, they were more afraid he’d lick suspects to death than attack — lest we forget that the two were quite serious about their jobs and quite good at them.
I conducted the interview and then we spent some time chatting, playing with Jack and then trying to get him to pose his handsome self for photos, each of us dangling treats and toys above him so that he’d perk up his ears and look his best.
It was the kind of assignment that makes a reporter’s day — and ends up making them love their career.
It didn’t take long to see that both the officer and his K-9 partner were not only among the finest of the boys in blue, but that this was the start of lasting, good a reporter-police relationship.
And it was. I was at Jack’s swearing-in. Yes, it was part of my job, but yet another good part.
And in covering Middletown for many years, I did many a story on Jack and Craig’s drug busts. Through the years, I was always happy to run into the two when I had to stop at the police station or town hall for one thing or another.
I came to know Craig better over the years as a reporter. He was a true gentleman and the kind of police officer anyone, much less a reporter, would hope to be the one answering their calls for help.
As often happens when reporters and officers are reassigned, you fall out of touch at times.
After a few years of no longer being assigned to covering Middletown and moving to other newspapers, I ended up being hired as editor of the Middletown Patch.
As one of my first responsibilities, I made the usual trek back to the police station to let everyone know I was back and where they could find me if there was news.
I went into the chief’s office to say hello to the longtime secretary there and another officer I had come to know well and respect over the years.
His office was next to Craig’s, which was empty that day. The door was open and I could see that story I had done all those years ago hanging on the wall. Not realizing how much time had passed, I asked how K-9 Jack was.
That was when I heard news that I didn’t want to hear on this happy reunion day. Jack had passed away and Craig was out of the office ill and battling cancer.
I saw Craig again a few times. He looked great and said he was feeling good. His smile never changed. You could always see and recognize it from a mile away. On the 10th anniversary of 9/11 was the last time I saw that smile. It was peering out from under his dress uniform hat, warming a sullen occasion with sincerity.
That smile and that one story 14 years ago had made my day. And, since then, the memory of that one person, whom I had the honor and pleasure of passing through my life, made it all that much better — even if for only the memory of a moment or a few.
As journalists, we see a lot of sadness and tragedy and have to write about it. We also see some amazing things. We live through and report on some rare, treasured moments. We also meet some very special people. Craig Bahrs was one of those people.
Rest easy, Craig. I am confident that there are so many more out there whose days you made better — even if only for a moment, or with one brief glance and smile.
You are remembered.
The following is a released statement from the Middletown Township Police Department:
With deep sorrow, the Middletown Township Police Department regrets to announce the passing of Deputy Chief of Police Craig A. Bahrs Jr. Badge #264.
Deputy Chief Bahrs passed away peacefully at home on Monday, Dec. 1, 2014 at the age of 45, following a courageous struggle with a lengthy illness.
Deputy Chief Bahrs was a lifelong resident of Middletown Township and a graduate of the Middletown High School North Class of 1987. He went on to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Science from Widener University and a Master’s Degree in Human Resource Training and Development from Seton Hall University.
He joined the Middletown Police Department on February 1, 1996 and served with distinction and honor for more than 18 years. During his career, he served as a Patrolman, Police K-9 handler with his K-9 partner Jack, Patrol Sergeant, Patrol Lieutenant, Deputy Chief and Commander of the Uniform Services Bureau and in his final command as the Deputy Chief of Professional Standards and Training.
Deputy Chief Bahrs was recognized as Police Officer of the Year and earned numerous commendations, including the Distinguished Service Award. He was firmly committed to the pursuit of excellence in his personal and professional life. His leadership and steadfast dedication influenced many officers and left a lasting legacy with our agency.
The Middletown Township Police Department is deeply saddened by this loss and requests that anyone who wishes to join with us, is welcome to attend a memorial service to be held on Saturday, Dec. 13, 2014 at 9 a.m. at The Tower Hill First Presbyterian Church located at 255 Harding Road, in Red Bank, New Jersey, as we
gather to honor the memory of our lost brother.