By Rick Pfeiffer
Niagara Gazette — Even as Falls Police Administrative Captain John DeMarco busied himself packing boxes in his office on Thursday, the chatter from his police radio blared in the background.
“It’s an old habit,” he said to a reporter, with a smile. “It’s hard to walk away from it.”
Yet, after more than a quarter of a century as a Falls cop, DeMarco walked away and retired on Friday. The long-time administrative captain and deputy superintendent simply said, “It was time.”
“I’m ready. No regrets,” DeMarco added. “I don’t want to be one of those guys that hangs around just because.”
DeMarco followed a family tree into law enforcement in the Falls. His grandfather was a well-known Falls Police motorcycle cop, while his father was a chief in the New York State Park Police, serving there for 40 years.
“I’m a third-generation cop,” he says proudly.
His brother, Bob DeMarco will remain with the Falls Police as a Juvenile Division detective.
Despite his pedigree, DeMarco said he didn’t know for sure, as a young man, that police work would be his calling.
“It wasn’t something I’d always wanted to do,” he said. “There were other (careers) I thought about.”
After graduating from Niagara University in 1972, DeMarco enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. Twelve years later he was back in the Falls and in need of a job and the opportunity to become a police officer was too good to pass up.
“I was lucky,” DeMarco said. “Things just fell into place for me and once I got on the job, I knew this was what I wanted to do. This is the best job in world.”
An up-through-the-ranks captain and administrator, DeMarco began his career in patrol and then became a patrol lieutenant. In 2000, he was tapped by then Superintendent Christopher Carlin to become his deputy.
When Carlin was called up to active duty in the military, from November 2001 to October 2002, DeMarco stepped in as the acting police superintendent. He continued in that right-hand role when John Chella succeeded Carlin as the Cataract City’s top cop.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better right-hand man,” Chella said. He made my life so much easier. I can’t say enough about his ability to quietly administer this department. He was a consummate professional.”
DeMarco said his toughest day on the job was the night he got the calls that Officers Walt Nichols and Mike Bird had been shot in a confrontation with a man who had tried to kill his girlfriend.
“It was almost surreal,” he recalled. “I remember getting the phone call and the lieutenant told me, “We have two officers down. It sinks in and you know it’s not going to be a good night.”
Yet, DeMarco said it was also one of his proudest nights to a Falls Police commander.
“It was one of the best nights, because every one of the men and women in this department stood up and did their jobs the best they could. When things are at their worst, cops are at their best.”
DeMarco said that belief was reinforced for him on Monday, when, in his last week on the job, he responded to a murder-suicide call on 29th Street. The incident happened on the first night that Captain Joseph Casale and Lieutenant Ron Cirrito had taken to the streets in their new roles.
“It was good to see them out there and to see them doing the things that needed to be done,” DeMarco said. “It was good, for just one last time, to see those guys working.”
The captain makes no bones about what he feels is “real police work.” If an aspiring police recruit were to ask him the best place to work, DeMarco would say, without hesitation, “Be a city cop.”
“In my career, I’ve seen the whole gamut of situations,” he said. “And I’m not sure you experience that anywhere else except as a city cop.”
DeMarco will have the chance to influence up and coming officers even in his retirement.
He’ll join the faculty in the Criminal Justice Department at Niagara University for the fall 2013 semester.
He says he’ll miss the people who worked with in the Falls force and even some of the criminals he encountered on the streets.
“Everybody has some good in them,” he says with a chuckle.
DeMarco said he hopes his legacy is that he “made a difference for the officers in this department, to make the job better for them.”
“I was just a guy who did my job. It’s not about what I did, it’s about what the department did,” he said. “I just wanted to be a cop. It was an honor to be a police officer for the city of Niagara Falls.”