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Put Delano back on the job

I have sat through hours of testimony in the downtown hearing room, and I still cannot figure out how it came to this.

A hero cop who brought honor to the department, helped to free innocent people and to bring justice to others, is on the chopping block for the equivalent of talking out of school.

Nothing screams "pettiness" louder than a police agency that would sacrifice one of its best on the altar of departmental procedures.

Buffalo's police brass want to fire Dennis Delano, the rumpled, thick-necked cold case detective, for violating regulations. The overkill makes as much sense as whacking yourself with a police baton.

Delano last year released to the media -- arguably against regulations -- a copy of crime-scene video in the 1993 death of Crystallynn Girard. It showed signs of a struggle in the girl's bedroom. The evidence contradicted the face-saving conclusion last year of then-District Attorney Frank Clark that the girl was not murdered by a man the DA's office gave immunity to. Instead, Clark claimed she overdosed on "trace" amounts of cocaine.

Delano said his oath to reveal the truth outweighs often-contradictory regulations. A hearing officer will decide if Delano broke the rules. But this much is obvious: The same passion that led Delano to work on cases at home, in search of justice for victims and their families, also prompted him to put the crime-scene video in the public eye. For that, they want to take his badge.

Delano's disciplinary hearing continued Saturday. The arbitrator will rule what punishment, if any, he deserves. Possibilities range from exoneration to dismissal. If ever there was a cop who deserved the benefit of the doubt, it is Delano.

Forget for a moment the dozens of cold cases he helped to solve, or his spotless record in 24 years on the job, or the awards and commendations that covered a desk in the hearing room. There is another argument in Delano's favor: The cases he will help to solve in the coming years, the people to whom he will bring justice and redemption -- if he stays on the job.

"Look at all of the good [Delano] has done in the past, and think of all the good he can do in the future," said Albert Capozzi. "Maybe he got some people's noses out of joint. But firing him goes beyond whatever pound of flesh [they say] he owes."

Folks like Capozzi are the best argument for Delano's reinstatement. He is 83, white-haired, old-school honest. Capozzi saw his mentally challenged son, Anthony, set free -- and a stain washed from the family name -- because Delano and other cops proved him innocent of rapes for which he spent 22 years in jail. A giant family photo, with a newly freed Anthony in the center, hangs in the living room of the Capozzis' West Side home.

Delano helped to solve dozens of cold cases in recent years. That means dozens of families like the Capozzis were given a measure of relief, a sense of redemption, partly due to Delano's work. That ought to count for something.

I understand the police commissioner's argument. The department is a paramilitary organization, dependent on discipline and a chain of command. No cop is bigger than the whole. If officers go off on their own, ignoring regulations, then the system collapses. Most cops play by those rules, even when they do not like it. Sometimes you have to shut up and soldier on -- or face the consequences.

Fine. Delano already was suspended for a month without pay. The punishment, if he stepped outside the line, makes the point that not even hero cops are above the rules.

Taking his badge merely sacrifices a large man for a small reason.


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