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LOCKPORT – Restructuring, incentives and proposed layoffs in the Lockport Police Department encouraged four top officers to take early retirements. All four, lifelong city residents, left the department for the last time with an honor guard salute on Monday.

Detective Capt. Richard L. Podgers, chief of detectives; Detective Lt. Scott D. Seekins, and David P. Barrancotta walked out for the last time and were greeted by nearly 100 people, including fellow officers, city and police staff, friends, and family, as well as Sheriff James R. Voutour, Lockport Chief Lawrence Eggert, Mayor Michael W. Tucker, former Lockport chief Neil Merritt and members of the district attorney’s office.

Not present Officer Joseph M. Brown, who is also retiring after 27 years of service.

Handshakes turned into hugs and then tears as the men made their way down the line to family members, and a round of applause broke out.

“We lost a lot of experience, really great guys, very capable, who did a wonderful job for the city,” said Tucker. “It’s a little bittersweet for us.”

Tucker and Eggert said the retirements allowed the city to avoid any police department layoffs.

For Barrancotta, avoiding layoffs meant more to him than most: his son Daniel is a new officer on the Lockport force.

“I didn’t want my son to get laid off. He was low man on the totem pole,” said Barrancotta.

David Barrancotta, 55, had been a member of the department for 33½ years and was a former juvenile detective. He was most recently a lieutenant on the midnight shift.

Podgers, 60, who retired as chief of detectives, was just shy of his 40th anniversary with the department, which he would have celebrated on Jan. 28. Podgers will be replaced by Capt. Brian Wentland, a 16-year veteran of the force who currently serves as patrol captain of the afternoon shift.

Podgers had a varied career, which included a stint on the Niagara County Major Crime Strike Force where he was recruited for his work as a top crime scene fingerprinter and photographer. He said he was able to move the Lockport department from black-and-white photographs to a semi-automated, full color system.

Podgers said he has worked on about 40 murder cases and closed all except three.

He is especially proud of his work on a case tracing serial killer and Texas death row inmate Tommy Lynn Sells to the long unsolved 1987 murder of Lockport hairdresser Suzanne Korcz.

He excelled at electronics and was at the helm of upgrading the department’s radio system, as well installing cell block cameras in the city jail.

He said, “When I came on the job there was one switch to turn on the red light and one button to push to turn on the siren. I’ve been a part of building the department.”

Seekins, 51, has 30½ years on the job. He was named the national Officer of the Year in 2003 for his role in taking down a man in a shootout who had seriously injured Officer Steven Ritchie and Chief Eggert. Seekins, who called his retirement “bittersweet,” said he felt he had “hit the wall” and needed to retire and move on. He said he has no specifics, but will be looking for a second career.

Seekins had also been on the cutting edge of most of the technology upgrades in the department, making Lockport one of the first departments in Western New York with computer terminals in patrol cars.

Eggert called the changes they made to accommodate the loss of three people “a major restructuring” which will allow them to provide the same level of service with less people at less cost.

He said with four people leaving they now have one position open.

email: nfischer@buffnews.com