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The gruff, booming voice of retired Kenmore Police Chief Elmer A. Arnet doesn't boom quite as loudly these days.

He's 72 now, retired for six years. Slowed by emphysema, he chooses to use an oxygen tube most of the time, and he walks only to a limited extent.

But he remains a keen observer of the local scene, especially the law enforcement world. As he reads and watches the Erie County budget mess unfold, he still can't understand why nobody has jumped on a proposal he made three years ago.

In January 2002, Arnet unveiled his proposal for an Erie County police department, a countywide force that would handle all police functions except patrol. Then each community would contract for however much patrolling it wanted and pay accordingly.

Three years later, the county is no closer to that reality, and taxpayers are paying for it.

"I'm frustrated," Arnet said, sitting at the kitchen table in his Town of Tonawanda home. "Consolidation, ultimately, could save taxpayers millions of dollars, and under my proposal, no one would lose their job. What justification is there for keeping the system the way it is, with all these smaller departments?"

Arnet was asked why such police consolidation hasn't been seriously considered.

"I don't think the elected officials across the county have the intestinal fortitude," he said, substituting "intestinal fortitude" for a cruder one-word term he initially gave.

Arnet laughed and said, "People who know me know I use naughty words." That's part of the "Moe" Arnet charm, the bluntness and the honesty.

His gruff voice, which became fodder for impersonators throughout Kenmore and the local law-enforcement world, only added to the image of the tough cop who headed Kenmore police for 29 years.

The department earned quite a reputation for the village as the wrong place to break the law.

Riding in an unmarked car, Arnet remembered seeing a car in front of him slow down from about 45 mph to about 30 as soon as it entered the village.

"I was proud," Arnet said of such sightings. "You couldn't get a better testimonial to the reputation of the Police Department in Kenmore."

Arnet left a huge legacy in his 43 years on the Kenmore force.

His greatest accomplishment may have followed one of the village's saddest moments, the 1976 murder of Amalia DeLong, who was fatally stabbed by a burglar in her Victoria Boulevard home; the wounded woman called 911, but the operator directed police to Victoria Avenue in Buffalo. Arnet then spearheaded a successful but lengthy campaign to revamp Erie County's 911 system.

He also introduced semiautomatic pistols for his officers, believed to be the first department in the state to do that.

At the same time, Arnet had high standards, demanding the same type of hard work he had exhibited as a patrolman. A man who never took a sick day in 29 years as chief didn't tolerate any officer grabbing a few winks on the midnight shift.

Arnet ruled with an iron fist, but only when that was needed, he said. He never believed he always was right; and when he was wrong, he'd admit it.

As patrolman and chief, Arnet had one weapon that wasn't standard issue on the force.

"I had this intimidating voice," he said. "At my tallest, I stood 6 foot 2. If it took a little shove, that's what it took. But I always talked first. That was my choice of weapon."

In retirement, Arnet admits he's lucky. Most of his four children and 14 grandchildren live in the area. He spends a lot of time reading and watching television, and he even sneaks a few Lark cigarettes.

"Fortunately, I have a delightful companion," he said, referring to Alice, his wife of 53 years. "A lesser woman probably would have poisoned me by now."


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