By Rick Pfeiffer
Niagara Gazette — For Falls Police Captain Morris Shamrock it's all about sound foundations.
It's what he always tried to set for his detectives and officers in the Narcotics Investigations Division. But it's also what he built his 43-year law enforcement career on.
"It's the people who shape you along the course of your career. When I came on the job, I was partnered with (Officer) Charlie Passanesse," Shamrock said. "He taught me the basics. He told me be quiet, observe, learn. He gave me a solid foundation."
Shamrock left the Falls police force on Friday. Despite commanding the high-flying Roving Anti-Crime Unit and the headline-making narcotics squad, he departed police headquarters as he entered, quietly.
That doesn't mean his departure went unnoticed.
"How could we not notice?" said Narcotics Detective John Faso. "He had this presence in the office. He ran (the squad) like a supervisor, but he treated us like family."
Faso spent 11 years under Shamrock's command and said he did lay "the foundation" for all his detectives and officers.
"He was a mentor to all of us," Faso said. "He had a wealth of knowledge. He was someone you could always go to for advice."
Shamrock's experience was so highly regarded by his investigators that they even coined an expression to refer to it. The expression was, "He's always right."
"No matter what you'd ask him, he was always right on the money," Detective Joe Giaquinto said. "We'd have our opinions about (investigations) and he'd tell us it wouldn't go down like that and two or three weeks later it would turn out he was right. No matter how wrong we'd think he was, he was always right."
Shamrock was a Buffalo boy who served in the military in the 1960s. When he came home he took a job "working on the railroad."
Police work, though, was in his blood. He looked first at his hometown police department, but the civil service waiting list there was a long one.
His cousin was a member of the Falls police force and he encouraged Shamrock to take the civil service exam here. He was appointed to the Falls force in August 1969.
Shamrock started his career working in patrol on some of the toughest beats in the city.
"Being from Buffalo I kind of got what were not always the best beats," he said with a chuckle. "But I was told it was they were good places of a young officer to get experience."
Years later, when he briefly returned to patrol duty, he was assigned to the same beats.
"This time," he said, shaking his head, "they told me those beats needed an experienced officer."
In between those patrol tours, Shamrock was plucked by another of his mentors, Capt. Keith Mills, to work in what was then known as the Confidential Unit, the predecessor to the narcotics squad. There he partnered up with the department's future chief of detectives, John Soltys, and future superintendent, John Chella.
"Mills was the guy I always tried to copy as a supervisor," Shamrock said.
When the Niagara County Drug Task Force was formed, Shamrock shipped out there and partnered with legendary drug Investigator Jimmy Hall. He also served with the county's future sheriff, Tom Beilein and future undersheriff, Sam Muscarella.
When he returned to the Falls, he began moving up the ranks to patrol lieutenant and detective under Police Superintendents Tom Zwelling and James Galie.
"You have to understand," Shamrock said, "everyone of these guys had an effect on my career."
By 1998, Shamrock was a captain and the department's Chief of Detectives. A year later he headed over to the Narcotics Division.
"I decided my true desire was to be in narcotics, so I transferred there," he said.
He arrived at a time when the crack cocaine epidemic in the city was rampant. At that time, the Narcotics Division tended to get involved only in major undercover investigations.
"We didn't worry about quality of life issues," Shamrock said. "We just concentrated on major dealers. We'd go up on (wiretaps) and do long-term cases."
But as city's drug problem became worse, Shamrock shifted the focus for his detectives and officers.
"You still want to get the big players," he said. "But people in the neighborhoods that are affected can't wait for those long-term investigations. They need relief now."
Shamrock said the cost of long-term investigations has also reached a point where local police agencies are hard pressed to do them without help from well-funded federal law enforcement agencies.
"We used to run our own wires," he said. "When I was with the task force, Beilein used go up on the phone poles himself and set the traps. Now the technology is so sophisticated you can't do it yourself."
Another change that Shamrock says has occurred on his watch is the ever-escalating violence on the streets.
"The OGs (Original Gangsters) of the past, they ran the streets with just their hands. If you messed up you got a beating," he said. "There were no drive-by shootings, spraying bullets in every direction, shooting like they do in the movies. You hurt their feelings, they go get a gun. There's no standards now."
Shamrock said there was also a grudging respect for law enforcement.
"They knew we had a job to do," he said. "But now, they just hate you."
As he left his office for the last time on Friday, Shamrock also left his raid jacket hanging on a coat tree and his ballistic vest slung over a chair. It's been a reminder for his detectives and officers.
"We've been in the office the last two days and and it's so empty," Giaquinto said. "It's the cleanest I've ever seen his office. But his vest and raid jacket are there, I'm really sad. He is irreplaceable. he will always be a great part of my life. I'll never forget him."
Faso said, despite his captain's low-key approach, his accomplishments won't be forgotten either.
"He didn't want the spotlight, never did," Faso said. "But he had such an impact on this community."
Shamrock said he believes, as he leaves, that the department is "in good shape."
"I'll miss the 20 calls a day before noon, the silence of the phone will be deafening," he said with a laugh. "This has been my love for my life. But it's time for the young guns."
The "young guns" say they'll build off of their captain's foundation.