At first, all was quiet. There were snowball fights, and some people out shoveling. One store at the mall was open, giving out coffee and cocoa.

But word spread that the police force was immobilized by the snow, and people began looting.

"They brought cars to the mall, and hooked up a chain and started pulling the [security] grates off, and cleaning out the stores," he said.

Starr was the only officer there. Hundreds of people were taking refrigerators, sofas, televisions, jewelry. He'd chase down a group, only to have them materialize at the other end of the mall. He radioed to communications that he was going to stand his ground, and drew his service weapon.

"I was the only person trying to keep law and order down there," he said. "When I went back to the district, the buttons had been yanked off my uniform. They had tugged on my [gun] holster so hard that they ripped the stitching."

Explaining it at the time to a reporter, he had stated plainly, "They punched me some." He described the looters as "misguided." "They were robbing and looting themselves," he said.

Merchants were angry at the city, saying the mayor should have called in the state police and national guard, and Starr said Wednesday that he felt he hadn't done enough. But others were happy with Starr's effort, and he was even featured in Time magazine.

Mary Ann Cricchio, proprietor of Da Mimmo restaurant in Little Italy, said Starr is a neighborhood fixture.

"You can count on him. He knows everyone," Cricchio said. She said all of the local business owners kept his cellphone number in case they ever needed help.

"It gave the businesses an extreme feeling of security to know that he was in the neighborhood — just picking up the phone, he would be at your place," she said. "Now if, unfortunately, you do need a policeman, you have to call 311 or, God forbid, 911 and it can be a lengthy wait."

Starr would spend time in Little Italy even when he wasn't on duty, to attend a church festival or stop by the bakery.

"He was just a member of the Little Italy family, whether he was dressed as Officer Starr or Ron," Cricchio said. "I just don't know if there will ever be another one like him."

Starr marvels at the changes he has seen in the city, which he describes as "all positive."

He used to walk the old Corn Beef Row on Lombard Street, where he said the owners of Jack's, Attman's and Stone's Bakery gave him keys so he could duck in on cold nights or to use the bathroom.

During business hours, the food wasn't too bad, either.

"I probably put on 20 pounds after coming out of the academy," he joked.

As the housing projects around Old Town Mall were torn down, the customer base went with it, and the retail strip faded away. Vacant lots closer to the water, however, exploded with development projects and new homes.

Starr said he retires as the 13th-longest-tenured officer in the department. The average length of service at retirement is 26 years, according to the police union.

He hopes to stay involved with police training at the academy, when he's not on his boat with his pet poodle.

"A lot of police training teaches you the negative side of policing — everybody's against you, everybody lies," Starr said. "That's not true. Most of these people are good people, who don't know who else to call."