Share this article

print logo

AFTER 31 YEARS, CONTE DECIDES TO HANG UP THE BADGE

Had he lived in days of yore, Anthony Conte would have mounted his steed each day, defended the helpless, vanquished evildoers and kept "the king's peace."

As a police officer and detective for the past 31 years, Conte, 57, appeared to always try his best to live up to that chivalrous police ideal: to protect and serve, taking up the gauntlet daily and going headfirst into battle.

"It's a war out there," Conte often said.

But the war will have to go on without him. His long and colorful career came to an end Christmas Day.

Anthony Conte retired and, according to his boss, Chief of Detectives Capt. Louis F. Curcione, the city and the police department are the less for it.

"I have a lot of good detectives, but Tony Conte is outstanding. I'm losing a helluva detective. He does the best job he can for our citizens, the city and the department every day, eight hours a day. He really hustles. And it's not a mere flash here and there. He does this every day, year in and year out. I'm going to miss this kid," Curcione said.

Curcione said that while Conte is a little unorthodox in his methods, "he solves a lot of cases and makes a lot of arrests."

Curcione said Conte has consistently made a large number of arrests each year. "He makes me look good as a chief of detectives," Curcione said.

From early on, and even after he teamed up with the now-retired Detective John Donner and they became known as the Dynamic Duo, Conte often did the unexpected -- and won.

As a young officer in 1973, for example, Conte was on foot patrol on Main Street near Depot Avenue when he saw a drunken motorist whiz by. He immediately commandeered a citizen's car, stopped the driver at Main Street and Pierce Avenue, and arrested him.

In another instance in the 1980s, Curcione said, Conte was looking for a suspect, climbed up into an awning above a residence where he thought the man might be, and waited. When the suspect came outside, Conte dropped on him and made the arrest.

Conte said he took similar action to end a rash of drugstore burglaries in the early 1980s.

When he found someone had been tampering with a door to a LaSalle-area drugstore early one morning, Conte said, he suspected the culprit might be back with a tool to pry it open.

"I climbed up a tree to the roof and stayed up there for an hour, waiting. When the guy showed up and tried to break in, I started spraying mace down on him from the roof. I think he must have thought it was raining and got the mace in his eyes when he looked up. I jumped off the roof, hit him in the back and cuffed him. He confessed to six more burglaries," Conte said.

And while Conte took on many special assignments and spent many years patrolling the Highland Avenue area before becoming a detective in 1988, he may have been best-known for ridding city parks and playgrounds of vandals, pot smokers and beer guzzlers during the 1970s.

He also played a major role in fighting Jamaican drug dealers in the Highland Avenue area in the 1980s, and chasing away the drug pushers that plagued the area around Niagara Falls High School in the late 1970s.

Of course, there also is the large number of arrests. Even though he was about to retire, Conte said, he made 54 arrests in October and November of this year.

But his exploits at Hyde Park made headlines.

In one summer, Conte arrested 753 people for causing trouble in the parks -- especially Hyde Park -- and area playgrounds, making them unfit for families and senior citizens to use.

"It was due to all the criminal mischief. They were doing a lot of damage. The parks were a mess. A lot of people wouldn't use them because gangs of kids were hanging out, and they were so disorderly. So we restored the parks to the community," Conte said.

When former Police Superintendent Anthony C. Fera handed him the assignment, Conte said he did a lot of research to see how other communities handled the situation, then went in on his motorcycle and started arresting everyone who was causing trouble. He was known to have had up to 25 teen-agers at a time marching down Hyde Park Boulevard in front of him to police headquarters to be arrested.

But Conte was not heartless.

Before he started the campaign, he said he told Fera that teen-agers were causing most of the trouble and he didn't want them to get criminal records for committing misdemeanors. He suggested Fera ask the City Council to reduce the City Parks Ordinance charges from misdemeanors to violations, and it did.

After that, Conte said, he cor-ralled the kids and kept arresting them until the problems stopped. He said damages from vandalism dropped by about $100,000 a year after that.

Conte has received many commendations over the years, including two from the black community for his work in the Highland Avenue area and two from the Board of Education for his work around the schools. But he said one of the greatest compliments he ever received was from the late Deputy Police Superintendent Michael Mianakian.

When another police department once inquired about how Niagara Falls was able to afford to hire five officers to keep its parks safe, Mianakian responded that one officer was responsible for completing the job: "We have Tony Conte."

Some of his fellow officers look upon Conte with both amusement and admiration.

"He has the energy of 10 officers," Detective James Lincoln said, noting Conte always charged into his assignments without slowing down.

Other officers often smile at Conte's misuse of the English language, but agree there was never any doubt about what he meant when he'd get excited about a case. Such malapropisms as "fragrant (flagrant) violation" or "I got an accommodation (commendation)" were often uttered over the years.

But Conte's main purpose as an officer was to protect the city's populace from harm, a mission he took very seriously.

"I always wanted to be a policeman, even when I was very young. I was the head technician at Baker Optical for six years. But I took a $2,000 pay cut when I got the chance to become a policeman," Conte said.

"You might call it the kid in you, but it was a thrill and a privilege to be a policeman. To have a badge and a gun and to go out and protect people. It's still a thrill to stop crime and catch bad guys. You feel proud you're representing something good, catching bad guys and helping people, especially old people," Conte said.

Then why retire?

"I think there's a time and place in life when it's the right time to do it. Physically and mentally, I knew it was time. It used to take me about 20 minutes to recover from a confrontation with two or three guys. Now it takes me at least three days," Conte said.

He said he used to be able to be on the go without a break, but now, he said, his heart gets pumping and he starts to feel tired.

"I don't want to wait until I have a heart attack or something. I want a chance to enjoy myself while I still have some youth left. I'm a fisherman and a hunter and I want to start playing some golf again. I even bought a new bike I'm going to start riding. But first I'm going to side my house," Conte said.

And while Conte has been shot at, assaulted, had a lighted cigar crushed on his face, and people have even tried to hit him with cars, he said he has never been seriously injured and was never afraid.

When he started as an officer in the late 1960s, Conte said, there wasn't the backup available that officers have today. He said a police officer was often on his own to handle a potentially dangerous situation. He said he always felt being aggressive -- along with using discretion and common sense -- was the best approach to policing in most instances.

On July 15, 1998, a man barricaded in his home on LaSalle Avenue fired a deer slug at Conte through the back window of the house as the detective was approaching it. The slug flew just over Conte's head and through the garage door behind him. The man, who was later talked into surrendering, was charged with attempted murder.

Conte said the secret to his success was the respect he had for the people he got to know on his beat. "A little courtesy and overlooking some minor violations -- using discretion -- leads to developing good informants through the years. They are people who can give you that little extra crumb (of evidence or information) you need to make your case," he said.

"I tried to talk him out of retiring," Curcione said. "but his mind is made up."

Curcione said, "Every time I gave him a case to tackle, he never refused or balked at it. He always took it on and did the best he could to bring it to an end, no matter how bad it was. He was good for this department."

There are no comments - be the first to comment