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Retired police chief proud of his service John Moslow spent 3 decades in Amherst

Newly retired Amherst Police Chief John J. Moslow Jr. used to love working the midnight shift. As a patrolman in his first six years with the Police Department, Moslow enjoyed hunting for drunken drivers, apprehending burglars and breaking up bar fights.

"It was always either dead quiet, or it was something serious, something exciting," he said of his early days on the force.

Amherst cops don't see many bar fights anymore, he said with a slightly wistful tone. Instead, Moslow's recent fights have been with politicians, not punks.

Even then, he has remained a respected figure by both friends and critics -- a man of steadfast character who has enabled the police force to meet tough challenges in an age of heightened security and tighter purse strings.

Moslow, 56, retired last week after 32 1/2 years of service in the region's largest suburban police force. Tuesday, he starts a new career as chief of security for the Eighth Judicial District.

The product of a lower middle-class upbringing, Moslow was a Vietnam War veteran hired by National Fuel Gas Co. to fix gas leaks. When he took the civil service exam for the police force in 1975, he said, he didn't have high hopes.

"Quite honestly," he said, "I didn't score as high as you'd need to score today."

But those early years as a young cop led to encounters forever seared into his memory: finding a young attorney shot through the head by a still unknown killer, apprehending a mentally ill man who bludgeoned his mother to death with a hammer on Mother's Day, responding to a call for trouble and having a man answer the door by saying he just killed his father.

"One thing I'm proud of," Moslow said after reflecting on the gruesome cases, "the murders that we have had since I've been chief -- we've solved every one of them."

Moslow traded in his gray shirt for a white supervisor's shirt in 1981, when he was promoted to patrol lieutenant, and he then served as captain in various capacities for 10 years starting in 1989. In 1999, he was promoted to chief.

Over that period, Moslow has seen his department face a rise in drug activity and gun possession.

On Moslow's watch as chief, he has led his department through challenges related to the Sept. 11 terror attacks and subsequent homeland security issues, high-profile homicide investigations involving Bike Pather Killer Altemio C. Sanchez, the death of abortion provider Dr. Bernard A. Slepian and the October Surprise snowstorm.

Slepian's death at the hand of James C. Kopp struck Moslow particularly hard, he said, especially since Slepian's wife, Lynne, worked part time for the Police Department.

"You realize nobody is really safe if somebody wants you dead," he said.

Over the years, Moslow has staked out some positions that have put him at odds with some elected officials. He's a strong opponent of regionalized police consolidations and has fought Supervisor Satish B. Mohan's efforts to restrict police officer hirings and influence internal promotions.

"For me to speak out on an issue means it's very important to me," he said. "I'm not a loudmouth by nature."

Indeed, those who know him are more likely to describe him as a respected man of cool temperment and professionalism, not a gregarious glad-hander or backslapper bent on making political friends.

Town Council Member Dan J. Ward remembered working with Moslow since the 1970s, when Ward was an assistant district attorney.

"He was always a spit-and-polish type of guy, always highly disciplined," Ward said. "He was the quintessential professional. He wasn't out trying to subvert the political system or be involved in it."

Edward Guzdek, president of the Amherst Police Club union, made similar observations.

"We always had things we disagreed on, but we both had the same goal: the betterment of the Police Department," he said. "His word was his word. It's unique that we didn't have a lot of labor issues or grievances because we could sit and solve a problem and work it out. We had mutual respect there, and that's huge."

Moslow has taken some hits for the lack of diversity within the Police Department. Of 151 sworn officers, only one is black, though another will joinhe force soon. Moslow said he has hired every eligible minority candidate he could and doubts an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice will find fault with the department's efforts.

Over time, Moslow has managed to promote his own agenda within the department, and he counts among his successes the investment in new technology, the implementation of a reverse-911 community notification system, a strong emphasis on community policing and the establishment of the Amherst Police Foundation.

He said he's grateful that, for the most part, Town Board members have allowed him to hire, manage and promote his officers without political interference. He pointed out that no scandals have ever come to light under his leadership.

"I've always told them," he said, " 'You let me do my job, and I'll take all the responsibility. If something goes bad, I'll take the blame.' "

e-mail: stan@buffnews.com

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