|Unity Beyond State Lines: Delaware Department of Correction Visits NJDOC Central Office Headquarters|
|By Melanie Weiss|
On a day that was supposed to be one of the happiest of his life, Commissioner Perry Phelps of the Delaware Department of Correction (DOC) experienced one of the worst days imaginable. On February 1, Phelps was to be ceremoniously sworn into his newly appointed post as commissioner when inmates sieged Building C at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center near Smyrna, taking several officers and civilian staff members hostage.
The standoff lasted 18 hours. At the end of it all, for the first time in the history of the Delaware DOC, the department lost an officer in the line of duty – Lieutenant Steven Floyd, Sr.
Floyd dedicated his life to protecting the citizenry of the First State, a mission he upheld until his last moments. He is credited with saving the lives of his co-workers, as he warned his fellow officers of the hostage situation and sacrificed himself to ensure the safety of others.
“Not only did I know Lieutenant Floyd, but I worked with him for five years when I was the warden of the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center,” said Phelps, who was appointed as Commissioner on January 18. “He was a good man.”
What happened in Delaware shook corrections agencies across the nation.
“The incident that took place at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in February is a stark reminder of how quickly the environment can change, and, in fact, how dangerous the job of a correction officer actually is,” said New Jersey Department of Corrections (NJDOC) Commissioner Gary M. Lanigan.
In a heartfelt tribute to the lieutenant who lost his life, Senior Correction Officer David Giordano of the NJDOC’s Special Operations Group (SOG) bestowed his new canine partner with the name he felt was most worthy – Floyd.
“My wife, my children and I were trying to come up with names,” said Giordano, who tested at least eight dogs before settling on a 16-month-old Belgian Malinois. “I was reading an article about Steven Floyd and the ultimate sacrifice he made, and I couldn’t think of a more honorable name to give my dog.”
Lieutenant Frank Martin, supervisor of the NJDOC Canine Unit, was in complete agreement.
“Being involved with the canine unit for about 10 years now, I always expect names like Diesel, Axel or Zeus,” said Martin. “It hit me that it was two and a half weeks after the tragedy in Delaware. I realized what Officer Giordano was trying to do and what he was trying to say. It is absolutely the best name for his new canine partner.”
Giordano expected no fanfare for his decision, but when officials from the Delaware DOC became aware of his gesture, they decided to journey to the NJDOC’s Central Office headquarters in Trenton to meet canine Floyd and his handler. That visit took place on May 11.
They were warmly welcomed by NJDOC staff and administration.
“First and foremost, the department would like to offer our sincere condolences to the Delaware DOC and the Floyd family for the loss of the lieutenant,” Lanigan said as he addressed Delaware and New Jersey corrections staff during a ceremony marking the visit.
“I’d also like to thank Officer Giordano for his sincere gesture honoring the Delaware DOC and the Floyd family by naming his canine in memory of Lieutenant Floyd,” Lanigan added. “I know that the handler and his canine will honor the Floyd memory by diligently protecting our department’s staff as well as the citizens of New Jersey.”
The meeting of the two corrections departments was also a valuable opportunity to discuss and exchange techniques and ideas.
“Working together makes everyone stronger,” said Canine Officer Brett Foraker, who has been with the Delaware DOC for 11 years and also worked with Floyd.
Although each department has unique methods, one thing that everyone agreed on was the importance of the canine units.
“Having my canine partner with me is like having another set of eyes to watch my back,” Foraker said. “The dog has the sense to know when it is safe or not.”
Major David Scott of the NJDOC SOG pointed out that the canines serve as a link to outside law enforcement agencies and the community.
“We get called in to help with finding lost children and elderly folks throughout the state,” said Scott. “For me, that’s personal. It really touches my heart.”
Lanigan added: “The canine unit is one of the department’s most positive links to the community.”
The profound impact of canine units was certainly made evident by the convergence of the Delaware and New Jersey corrections departments to celebrate Lieutenant Floyd and the NJDOC’s new canine named in his tribute.
“I know canine handlers and their partners have a special bond,” said Phelps. “For Officer Giordano to name his canine after Lieutenant Floyd is an honor to his memory.”
Melanie Weiss has been a member of the NJDOC Public Information Office since February 2017.
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