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AFTER 33 YEARS, PARTNERS AGAINST CRIME ENTER THE TWILIGHT AS A TEAM

For most of the 33 years they have served the Buffalo Police Department, Narcotics Detectives Dominic R. Pace and Brian J. Miller have been partners in fighting crime.

Today, the longest-running partnership on the force concludes as Pace and Miller step into private life from public-service careers that saw them experience close brushes with death, play key roles in breaking the backs of ruthless drug gangs and help put killers behind bars.

But perhaps their greatest accomplishment is that they have remained together so long as a team, seeing each other day in and day out, decade after decade.

So what's their secret?

Mutual respect.

"If we had a problem, we worked it out. We were straightforward with each other and never talked behind the other's back," Pace said.

It also helped that they were opposites in the personality department.

"I'm outgoing," said Pace, 60.

"I'm laid-back," said Miller, 59.

They did have their "domestics" from time to time.

"But the job always came first," Pace said.

Their differences of opinion never focused on personal matters, but rather tactical questions when pursuing criminals.

"Like what street we should turn down when searching for a criminal, or what door should we kick in at a house when executing a search warrant?" Miller said.

"And if Brian made a good decision, I would compliment him and say, 'Good call,' " Pace said.

Among the department's most productive officers, the two said they never relished making arrests, though they have handcuffed thousands of suspects. "We made arrests because we had a good case and the person had to be arrested," Pace said.

Sometimes there was a sense of satisfaction, Miller acknowledged, if the criminal removed from the streets had committed "awful crimes."

As when they helped build a case to put members of the LA Boys gang behind bars.

"The members of this gang would kidnap other drug dealers and hold them ransom. There were murders and other acts of violence," Pace said. "We learned from a state prison guard that Sly Green was running the gang from prison using a telephone."

After investigating the case, they realized that it was beyond the scope of their resources, and they contacted the FBI and other law enforcement officials. The result was a major crackdown on gang-related violence and numerous convictions with lengthy prison terms.

The most harrowing experience for Pace and Miller happened in 1985, several years after they had been promoted from patrol officers to detectives.

"We were investigating reports of drug sales on Spring and William streets, and a guy pulled out a handgun and began shooting at us at point-blank range. I don't know how he missed," Miller said.

The shooter was killed when the detectives re-turned fire. "When we got back to Police Headquarters, the first thing we did was go next door to St. Joseph's Cathedral and say a prayer thanking God for being with us," Miller said.

More of their war stories will undoubtedly be shared when friends gather to toast their careers at 6 p.m. Feb. 3 in the Knights of Columbus Monsignor Nash Center, 261 Legion Drive, Buffalo.

Offering one of the best compliments anyone on the force could hope for was Police Commissioner Rocco J. Diina.

"They're truly Buffalo's finest. They bring meaning to the words 'Buffalo's finest.' They set an example for other officers," Diina said.

Marveling at the longevity of their partnership, police spokesman Lt. Larry J. Baehre said, "It's a huge accomplishment, because you spend more time with your police partner than you do your family. Most officers routinely change partners every several years."

The defining moments that helped shape Pace's and Miller's perspectives on police work occurred mostly in off-duty hours.

Working a second-front job for years as a cement mason, Pace said, provided him with a sense of balance in viewing the world. "My second job allowed me to meet some terrific people outside of police work," he said in explaining the importance of understanding human nature as a police officer.

For Miller, the decision to treat people with respect, even the most hard-boiled of criminals, was something he always strived to accomplish.

But when his son committed suicide a few years ago, the sacredness of life was all the more deeply impressed upon him.

"I heard the shot go off when my son took his life. He suffered from mental illness," Miller recalled. "Life became even more precious to me. I could see how mental illness affected people."

One of the first people to arrive at Miller's home after the suicide was his partner.

"I supported Brian any way I could," Pace said.

That's how it has always been for these two officers. They have been there for each other, day in and day out.

In retirement, it will stay the same.

Miller plans to perfect the art of being a grandparent.

"I've got three grandchildren and one on the way," said Miller, who intends to spend more time with them. Pace said he has no plans except to "enjoy the holidays, for starters."

But both agreed that they would visit each other regularly.

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