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NIAGARA FALLS – In more than a quarter century in law enforcement, John P. DeMarco has seen a lot of challenging moments.

But one of his hardest days on the job came in Feb. 7, 2009.

That’s when Niagara Falls Police Officers Walter Nichols Jr. and Michael D. Bird were shot on South Avenue in the city..

For Capt. DeMarco, who stepped down earlier this month as deputy police superintendent after 26 years with the Niagara Falls Police Department, that moment was particularly tough.

DeMarco still thinks about it often – especially now, as he trades his police badge for the books and papers of a college teacher.

“Things were at their worst, but we were at our best,” said DeMarco. “Everybody did what needed to be done and stepped up and went above what was required of them. Everybody was calling to see what they could do to help. It’s then that you realize it transcends the color of the uniform you are wearing or the shape of your badge.”

DeMarco, 63, has been the administrative captain responsible for day-to-day operations of the department, and second in charge, for the past 10 years.

He said retirement from the force will be the beginning of a new career teaching criminal justice at Niagara University, where he was offered a full-time teaching job for the fall. He said he will receive his master’s degree from the university in May. He also expects to continue teaching criminal justice at Niagara County Community College, a part-time job he has held for the past three years.

“Obviously, when you reach this point in your career you start to look back, but it passed quickly,” DeMarco said.

New Police Superintendent E. Bryan DalPorto, who took his job in January, said he is the third chief to work with DeMarco.

“He’s been a constant, the fabric that kept the department together,” said DalPorto. “We as a department want to let him and his family know how much we appreciate his sacrifice throughout the years.”

He is a lifelong resident of Niagara Falls and third-generation police officer. His grandfather was a member of the Niagara Falls Police Department and his father served as an officer for the New York State Parks Police.

DeMarco said his career so far has had a lot to do with luck.

“It was something I always wanted to do, but I just didn’t recognize it,” DeMarco said.

He said after he graduated from Niagara University he served in the U.S. Marine Corps for 11 years and then had to decide what to do next in his career.

“A lot of what happened was luck. I was lucky that they were giving the test that year. I was lucky I did well on the test that year and I was lucky I was hired right away,” DeMarco said.

“But I realize that this is the job I was meant to do. There’s no other job in the world like this. There’s no other job like being a cop.”

DalPorto credited more than luck – and said DeMarco’s military background and sacrifice made him a good leader that people respected.

DeMarco said he started out on patrol, working the afternoon shift for the first six or seven years. He was promoted to lieutenant in 1995, worked in the jail for a year, and then went back to afternoon shift as a street supervisor.

“It was luck to be chosen [as assistant chief],” he said. “I was in the right place at the right time and so I got selected. Fortunately there’s great people who work in this building to make sure the job gets done and the men and women on the street have the support they need.”

He said it is a unique job, to be a police officer. That’s something he tries to teach young people who are planning careers in law enforcement.

“Being a cop is the guy out on the street. The first one that shows up and chaos is all over. He’s the one that steps out of that car and establishes order and gets things going,” DeMarco said.

He said one thing they tried to teach recruits is to get to know the community and get to know what’s going on, to “build bridges.” He said that attitude is something he hopes to pass on.

DeMarco is a founding member of the Niagara Falls Law Enforcement Foundation and continues to serve on the Niagara Police Athletic League.

Since the 2009 shooting of the two officers, both have recovered. The shooter, Adam J. Hamilton, was sentenced to 75 years in prison.

DeMarco said remnants of the yellow police tape from the crime scene, left behind and faded, remain on a pole he can still see from his office window.

“It truly is a brotherhood and this is a great, great police department,” DeMarco said. “I’ve been fortunate and honored to be a police officer in Niagara Falls.”

email: nfischer@buffnews.com