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Depew police chief drama is layered with plot twists

Depew officers who resisted the idea of an outsider as the village's new police chief say that last week's departure of Buffalo police Capt. Albert J. Liberatore, after 10 days on the job, was bittersweet:

A talented man with ideas people liked left because he knew that his presence could keep others from advancing in their careers.

"We believe he had a lot to offer us," said village police Lt. Jerome D. Miller. Yet, he said, making a Buffalo captain into a Depew chief "kind of blocks us for future promotions for several years, and obviously that's disappointing. There is no answer."

When someone "from away" becomes chief, in spite of his good ideas for change, he may stymie the promotions of the 30 officers under him, Miller said.

An opening for the $108,000-a-year post could let three officers advance and earn raises worth thousands of dollars: If the single department captain takes the post left vacant by Police Chief Thomas J. Domino's retirement in July, one of the six lieutenants becomes captain, and a patrol officer can become lieutenant.

In general, the local police system can make officers reluctant to switch from one municipality to another. Such moves are complicated, in part, by residency requirements and potential loss of seniority when moving from one department to another. Given the difficulties in Depew, Liberatore said, he had to return to Buffalo quickly or perhaps lose his rank of captain.

This system can make modernization and evolution difficult, said Depew Mayor Barbara A. Alberti, who, along with village trustees, formally appointed Liberatore during a Jan. 10 meeting.

One chief learned from "the previous chief who learned from the previous chief. So there never was any change," Alberti said, echoing a sentiment in Liberatore's Jan. 20 resignation letter.

In it, he acknowledged the difficult situation and thanked the village for the honor of the appointment.

"I weighed it all, and my gut told me give these guys what they want and go back to what I love," Liberatore said, elaborating by phone Wednesday.

"I made 30 friends over there. There were officers who came pleading with me not to leave."

Last week, he returned to his Buffalo job at the Ferry-Fillmore District, a post that includes the challenging work of scuba diving in the lake for sunken cars and evidence. He is a Grand Island resident with a family, a 28-year career with the Buffalo Police Department, a master's degree and sometimes is a guest lecturer at Buffalo State College.

Liberatore's two-week stay in Depew included assessment interviews with the 30-member deparment and a four-page list of suggested changes submitted to the mayor. Already this has led to a professor from Gannon University in Erie, Pa., agreeing to help with grant applications, plans for a gym for lunch-break workouts, an e-mail system to replace old-fashioned mailbox notes and a new break room for more safety and privacy away from the prisoner booking area.

"It's just nice to get a different perspective on things," said Christopher B. Hoffhines, a patrolman. He is president of the Depew Police Benevolent Association, which staged a walkout when the mayor announced she was hiring Liberatore.

Of Liberatore's appointment, Hoffhines said, "It completely blocks anyone from inside the department from ever getting promoted."

e-mail: mkearns@buffnews.com

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