NIAGARA FALLS – Niagara Falls Police Superintendent John R. Chella is retiring at the end of the year.
And this time, he means it.
Chella, 63, who has been with the Niagara Falls Police Department for 42 years, thought he was leaving at the end of last year. But when he learned that his benefits – which accounted for almost 30 percent of his salary – would not be used to calculate his pension, he delayed his departure for another year.
Chella earned a base salary of $85,800 as chief, a post he held for nine years, but collected a total of $125,000 with benefits. New York State Retirement administrators had said they rejected his projected salary because it was a verbal, not a written agreement.
He said now that everything is approved in writing, he is ready to leave and ready to provide his replacement with some advice: Do not think of this position as a desk job.
“He or she needs to make sure they don’t stay in this office. They need to go to every event, every meeting. Everything you are invited to, you need to try and go to, because you solve a lot of the little fires that crop up between the police and the community. These things can be put out through communication,” he said.
Chella told The Buffalo News that he has someone in the department in mind for the job but cautions that it is not his call, rather Mayor Paul A. Dyster’s final decision.
“I don’t want to put any more pressure on him now than he already has,” Chella said when he announced his decision last week.
Pressure will not be in short supply for the next chief, who will take office with several high-profile crimes still fresh in the public’s mind. Notably a 2-year-old was shot in the face in a drive-by shooting this month, and a week later another “payback shooting” was reported, though no one was injured; on Aug. 27, 5-year-old Isabella Tennant was murdered and found stuffed in a garbage can; soon after Loretta J. Gates was found dead, her body found dismembered in September; Luis A. Ubiles was shot and killed by a relative near his home on Sept. 25; there have also been a number of armed robberies and shootings reported.
“We are doing OK in a lot of areas, but it is the horrific incidents that people look at in Western New York and say, ‘Look at Niagara Falls.’ ” Chella said. “One homicide is one too many, but when it is sensational it stays in the press much longer. It is unfortunate that [these] incidents portray us unjustly in a light that is not deserving.”
Chella’s wife, Susan, wrote to The Buffalo News to remind readers that her husband has been available to the city and community whenever he is needed, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
He has been honored for his role with the city, working his way up from patrolling the streets on foot to working his way up the ladder in narcotics for 21 years, from patrol to detective to lieutenant to chief.
Chella has been credited for expanding the role of community policing, reaching out to neighborhood groups, working with other police agencies and using the state-funded Operation IMPACT, which employs a computerized data program to focus department resources where they are needed most.
Now the federal government will focus funds in a similar way, announcing a partnership last month that will bring federal experts to the city to analyze crime trends and help local officials develop plans to decrease both violent and petty crimes.
Chella’s work with the community has been noticed.
“He’s kind of been like the people’s chief,” said Sheriff James R. Voutour when Chella first announced his retirement. “He used a very good theory of law enforcement – get the community involved.”
Administrative Capt. John DeMarco has been tapped to serve as the interim superintendent. DeMarco said he plans to retire in the spring and will hold the job until the city picks a successor.