Charlestown Police builds, strengthens K9 legacy in the year after Sgt. Ben Bertram’s death

K9 unit keeps Sgt. Ben Bertram's memory alive

CHARLESTOWN, Ind. (WAVE) - It’s been a painful year for many within the Charlestown Police Department after losing one of their own.

Sgt. Ben Bertram was killed in a crash last December, his K9 Franco was in the car with him at the time and survived.

Now, nearly one year later, the department, as well as the K9 unit, works to keep Bertram’s memory alive.

"We're still reeling from the loss of Ben. We still struggle with it every day," said Tim Wolff, Assistant Chief at Charlestown Police Department.

Officer Josh Hammond with K9 Franco
Officer Josh Hammond with K9 Franco (Source: Josh Hammond)

Wolff, who is also Bertram’s brother-in-law, said this past year has been challenging both at home and work, surrounded by grief and memories of Ben.

The healing process is moving slowly for the entire department. Even in their new building, memories find their way in.

"So you come in here and you look at what would have been his office, we just completed the weight room just last week. You know, sorry. Just knowing he's not going to get to see that, it's just a little tough sometimes," Wolff said.

The crash that ended Bertram’s life last December spared his K9 Franco’s. Franco was still being trained by Ben, who was working with the dog after retiring his previous K9, Kubo.

With the pain of losing Bertram still fresh, officer Josh Hammond stepped in, offering to retrain his dog. It was a job he’d always wanted, but the way it came about, he said, is something no officer ever wants to see happen.

Finding the right K9 handler to take over the department's unit was important for everyone.

"When we found that Ben was kind of mentoring Josh and going that route, that sold me. I was like okay," Wolff said.

"It's still tough sometimes, I see when I go out and get him for training or for work or whatever, it hits home a little bit," Hammond said.

Retraining Franco for a second handler wasn't easy, every new step a tricky one for both Franco and Hammond.

"Because Sgt. Bertram was left-handed and I'm right-handed so getting him, his commands to heel on the opposite sides and some of his commands, we weren't sure what his commands were for different things," Hammond said.

Those growing pains are now long gone.

"Words can't explain it. The bond I have with that dog is crazy," Hammond said.

With the loss of Sgt. Bertram and the move into the new building, it's been a transitional year for Charlestown Police. But seeing the success of K9 Franco with his new handler has helped the department succeed and continue to grow.

This year, officer Adam Clark took on Hurley as a new K9. Hurley’s name, a nod to Sgt. Bertram’s middle name.

And soon, Franco will be better protected. The donation of body armor in the form of a bulletproof, stab proof vest from Vested Interest in K9's, Inc. expected to arrive soon.

Even with the passage of time, the loss of Ben felt deeply each day still.

"So it's probably going to be something I struggle with for a very long time. But again, the best way to honor Ben is to continue to go out here, continue to work this dog and to make it what he thought it was going to be," Hammond said.

With each step and pawprint moving forward, the work they’re doing will ensure Bertram’s legacy lives on.

Sgt. Bertram was killed in the line of duty on December 12, 2018, hours after completing the Shop with a Cop program with many co-workers and some family members.

In honor of the one-year anniversary of Bertram’s death, the Charlestown Police Department will be hosting a candlelight vigil at the city square in Charlestown. Both Chief Keith McDonald and Bertram’s brother-in-law Assistant Chief Tim Wolff will be speaking. The public is invited to attend and asked to arrive by 5 p.m. to receive candles.

Copyright 2019 WAVE 3 News. All rights reserved.