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Internal Affairs was tough job, but losing police officer brother was far worse

Internal Affairs Inspector Harold McLellan's most difficult moment as a Buffalo police officer did not involve his job of policing the police. It happened when he learned his brother had been killed in the line of duty.

"I experienced my brother's death both as a family member and as a police officer," McLellan said. "I think about him a lot. We used to sit and talk about the job and I miss that."

Robert McLellan was fatally struck by a motorist in 1998 while chasing a fugitive across the Kensington Expressway.

But when Harold McLellan retired last week, he also had plenty of positive memories from his 33 years in law enforcement.

Like the times an elderly bedridden woman frequently called 911 and hung up, knowing it would bring the police.

"We basically would go there and keep her company. She was lonely. One time I noticed an old piano and touched the keys and said, 'Hey, this is out of tune.' She yelled from the bedroom, 'No, it's not,' " recalled McLellan, who plays piano by ear.

Another time as a young officer on his way to work, McLellan spotted two city streets worker struggling with an individual.

"I stopped my car and handcuffed the man. He had tried to steal their city truck," he said.

The next day McLellan was summoned to the office of Inspector James A. Mahoney, head of Internal Affairs.

"I started worrying I did something wrong, but when I got to his office he told me he had received a call telling him how I arrested the man. He said, 'I want to commend you and tell you what a great job you did,' " McLellan said. "I said, 'Thank you, sir,' and left."

McLellan could not have imagined that in time he would hold the same job as Mahoney.  But after 20 years in patrol, which he called "the backbone of the department," he said the police administration asked him to consider working as an Internal Affairs captain.

It was a good match. Seven years ago, he was promoted to inspector and head of the division.

His upbringing helped shape him for the job. When he was only 5 years old,  his father was killed in a car accident on Thanksgiving 1966. As the oldest child, McLellan started taking on responsibilities and by his teenage years was the man of the family.

That required discipline. With his mother disabled, he began working full time at 17 in a local factory to help pay the bills. He also took police exams and was hired by Buffalo in 1984.

Acknowledging that his job overseeing investigations of alleged police misdeeds makes him unpopular among his colleagues, McLellan said the work he and his staff perform is a necessity.

"In any organization discipline must be maintained. A lack of discipline is one of the biggest morale killers. Every organization has a few bad apples, but the overwhelming majority of Buffalo police officers are hardworking, professional and dedicated," he said.

His most enjoyable years were spent in patrol, which included serving as chief of the Northeast and Ferry-Fillmore districts. Yet it was during that time that McLellan experienced a visit to his home no relative of a police officer ever wants to receive.

"An officer from Central District knocked on my door. He said there was an accident involving my brother. I immediately asked, 'Is he OK?' He looked down and wouldn't answer me. So I kind of knew. I had to go to wake my mother and we drove to Buffalo General. That was one of the longest drives I ever made."

He wishes his brother were still alive.

"Bobby never had the chance to see my two boys, and I know they would have gotten a kick out of him. He was a tough cop, but to kids he was lovable."

Now McLellan looks forward to retirement and spending lots of quality time with his sons, Matthew, 11, and Joshua, 10. "My lovely wife Ann," he said, will continue to work at her job as a financial assistant at a local company.

An aficionado of old cars, McLellan also plans to devote more time to restoring a 1968 Plymouth police car, a project that has been underway for six years.

"When it's done, it is going to be a replica of the 'Adam-12' car from that TV show I grew up watching."

And, he says, memories of police work and his brother will always be part of his life.

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