Elmer A. Arnet Jr., the feisty and outspoken chief who ruled the Kenmore Police Department with an iron hand for 29 years, died Tuesday in Kenmore Mercy Hospital, Town of Tonawanda, after a lengthy illness. He was 72.
As chief from 1970 until his retirement in 1999, "Moe" Arnet was credited with helping bring the Enhanced 911 emergency calling system to Erie County and arming his officers with semiautomatic weapons in 1972. He also was an advocate of establishing a countywide police force.
Most of all, he carved out a reputation as a no-nonsense police chief who made sure everyone knew that criminals were not welcome in the village.
"The key was to keep Kenmore safe and keep the bad guys on notice when they came through," said his son, Elmer A. "Duke" Arnet III.
Chief Arnet was a throwback to earlier days, with his sandpaper voice and his outspoken manner.
Sometimes that landed him in trouble, like in 1993, when there was national publicity about a California woman winding up in handcuffs after she ran a red light in Kenmore.
When a police officer from the woman's small hometown in California criticized Chief Arnet, he wrote back a sarcastic letter.
"Next time you drive the buckboard into town for supplies, check with the local law man, and maybe he can tell you what real law enforcement is all about," the chief wrote.
He signed the letter "Buford," a reference to a small-town, bumbling sheriff. And he addressed the letter to a person he called Lance, he wrote, because "all California guys are named Lance, Rock, Tab, Chad or Tiffany."
Buffalo Police Commissioner Rocco J. Diina called Mr. Arnet a mentor and visited with him frequently in his Town of Tonawanda home.
"He was old-school, a throwback to the cigar-smoking, top-hat cops," Diina said. "He was tough, but he had a great sense of humor and a big heart. He got the job done, with his own style."
Diina also said that Chief Arnet changed with the times and listened to younger people, hatching what the commissioner called the most sophisticated and feasible plan for local police consolidation.
A native of Buffalo, Chief Arnet graduated from Bishop Fallon High School and then joined the Erie County Sheriff's Department, where he served as a deputy and then a detective. In 1957, he joined the Kenmore police.
A month ago, using an oxygen tube to battle his emphysema, he sat at his kitchen table and talked proudly about Kenmore's reputation as the wrong place to break the law.
Chief Arnet remembered riding in an unmarked car years ago and 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," he said. "You couldn't get a better testimonial to the reputation of the Police Department in Kenmore."
Surviving, in addition to his son, are his wife of 53 years, Alice Gesl Arnet; three daughters, Kathy of the Town of Tonawanda, Debra McDermott of Kenmore and Elizabeth Pauly of Copley, Ohio; a sister, Jeanne Ryan, and a brother, Jack, both of Kenmore; and 14 grandchildren.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 9:30 a.m. Friday in St. Andrew's Catholic Church, 1524 Sheridan Drive at Elmwood Avenue, Town of Tonawanda, after prayers at 8:45 in Lester H. Wedekindt Funeral Home, 3290 Delaware Ave., Town of Tonawanda. Burial will be in Mount Olivet Cemetery, Town of Tonawanda.