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Derenda tapped for top job in Police Dept.; Mayor moves to make acting role permanent

Twenty years ago, Daniel Derenda looked forward to making detective, saying he was not interested in becoming a lieutenant or captain.

What a difference two decades makes.

Derenda now is in line to become Buffalo's next permanent police commissioner. He was selected for the $116,989-a-year job six months after Mayor Byron W. Brown announced a national search to find the best possible candidate.

It turns out the mayor likes the hard-nosed 51-year-old street cop, whom he named as interim commissioner after sacking H. McCarthy Gipson, the city's first African-American commissioner, last December.

"He's extremely creative, very hard-driving and very passionate about policing," Brown said Tuesday. "He's a results-oriented individual."

Brown pointed to a "number of new initiatives" Derenda has launched in his short time as interim commissioner:

* A new public housing unit within the Police Department.

* The "Text-A-Tip" program;

* An Internal Affairs satellite office in City Hall.

The mayor also cited Derenda's efforts, while deputy police commissioner of operations, on the program to install surveillance cameras. Brown said he received "extremely good feedback" from the community about Derenda's work.

"He's very accessible, and he has worked well with federal, state, county and other law enforcement agencies," the mayor said. "He has established very solid partnerships with community members and is a real proponent of community policing."

In an unexpected move, Brown also announced the appointment of an outsider as deputy commissioner: Charles H. Tomaszewski, who has served the last 1 1/2 years as the agent-in-charge of the Buffalo office of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.

"The addition of Charles Tomaszewski as commissioner of operations will give us the ability to bolster our focus and our initiatives on drugs and drug enforcement," the mayor said. "We believe we can further reduce crime in the City of Buffalo by stepping up [drug enforcement]."

Tomaszewski became a DEA special agent in Baltimore in 1988. While with the agency, he has served in its headquarters in Washington, D.C., and overseas as attache in Berlin and Warsaw.

Tomaszewski, a Buffalo native who received his bachelor's degree in criminal justice from Buffalo State College in 1977, served for 21 years in the Air Force and the Air Force Reserve, retiring in 2003 as a lieutenant colonel.

Derenda, who is celebrating his 51st birthday today vacationing in Canada with his wife and children, said he was "excited" about his appointment and looks forward to having a "like-minded individual" in Tomaszewski on his team.

"I think he was a very, very good pick," Derenda said. "About 70 percent of all violence and 90 percent of all crime is tied to drugs. We're going to continue to go after drug dealers, who we believe are destroying neighborhoods."

He also called the job as commissioner "a challenge I'm looking forward to."

While Derenda is expected to face tough questioning by city lawmakers, some city officials said, the Common Council is likely to approve his appointment.

"I think there's a better chance of him being confirmed than not," Council President David A. Franczyk said.

"I would say that maybe it was a half-hearted national search," Delaware Council Member Michael J. LoCurto said. "I always thought it was going to be Derenda."

But, he added, he will keep an open mind on the nomination.

Masten Council Member Demone A. Smith, who plans to vote for Derenda, said he sees nothing wrong with a search that culminates in the nomination of a lifelong Buffalo resident who knows the city and its police department.

"What's wrong with a person from Buffalo? Have some damn pride," Smith said. "We don't need outside people to tell us how to do things."

Other lawmakers said they were undecided on Derenda's nomination.

Numerous issues are expected to be raised at the Council's confirmation hearing, possible next week.

They include questions about police manpower levels and visibility in some neighborhoods. But Derenda, a graduate of Hutchinson-Central Technical High School and 24-year veteran of the department, has been in tough spots before.

Twice in one month back in 1990, he found himself looking down the barrel of a loaded gun, and on both occasions, he and other officers managed to make arrests without anyone getting hurt.

Superiors praised Derenda after one of the incidents, in which bystanders could have been injured or killed had gunfire erupted.

When interviewed about his two close brushes with danger, Derenda had told The Buffalo News that he and his partner, Anthony Barba, weren't interested in advancing into the hierarchy of the force.

"We don't want to be lieutenant or captain. We just want to work the street because we enjoy it. We just want to make detective," he said.

Derenda got his chance to become a detective and later a detective sergeant, again catching the attention and admiration of Rocco J. Diina, who rose to become commissioner from the civil service rank of police officer.

When a convenience store was repeatedly robbed, Derenda decided to stake out the location, hiding in the store's rear cooler. "He spent the night in a cooler and jumped out when the robber came in," Diina had said of Derenda's efforts to make an arrest.

Perhaps better than other high-ranking police officials over the years, Derenda has been able to keep an eye on the city's criminal element because he has lived his entire life in the East Side Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood where crime is no stranger. He and his wife still live in that area with their two young children.

And while his formal education ends with a high school degree, Derenda prides himself on his fierce work ethic, often working seven days a week and showing up at major crime scenes at all hours of the day or night.

He was promoted to deputy police commissioner in 2006 after serving in the department's Narcotics Squad and, later, Homicide Squad.

In becoming a police officer, Derenda followed in the footsteps of his older brother, Michael, 53, now a retired lieutenant.

Gipson took the high road when contacted Tuesday for his reaction to his replacement.

"The selection of commissioner is up to the mayor, and the mayor chose the individual he wanted for the position, and so I wish him good luck and success," he said.

Gipson, who will soon turn 62, noted that retirement is looking pretty good to him.

"I played 18 holes of golf yesterday," he said.

Buffalo Police Benevolent Association union officials could not be reached to comment on the nominations.

e-mail: lmichel@buffnews.com

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