During a career spanning four decades, Baltimore police Officer Ron Starr says, he never really considered leaving the department's Southeastern District and moving up the chain of command.
"I never wanted to," Starr said, a longtime foot patrol officer. "I'm not knocking what they do, because we need administrators, but when you put three stripes on, you're not out there working with street, and I've had a love affair with the street for 38 years."
Starr, who is single, flashed a silver band with a blue line that he wears on his ring finger.
"I tell people I'm literally married to the department," he said. "I've given my entire life to the department."
Starr, 67, worked his last shift Wednesday, ending a career marked by a humble commitment to serving the public.
Ron Furman, owner of Max's Taphouse, called Starr "old police — a neighborhood cop, who knew everybody and walked the beat."
Joyce Adamski, an O'Donnell Heights community leader, said Starr's name "should be etched into the cornerstone" at the district station.
A career in one assignment is rare; officers can get shuttled between different units and districts several times in a single year. Starr walked foot patrols, trudging the sidewalks of Fells Point, Little Italy and Canton.
"I fell in love with the Southeast District," Starr said. "I figured, I don't have to go anywhere else. This is my home."
Born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., Starr attended the University of Baltimore and sold insurance before joining the Police Department as a 30-year-old. It's difficult, now, to imagine him in another line of work.
He has worked a shift every Christmas so other officers could be with their families, and served on the honor guard. He held leadership positions in the Fraternal Order of Police, and led an organization for Jewish officers. He bought holiday gifts for every officer in the Southeast District for the past several years, and poinsettias for the secretaries. His retirement plans include sailing on a boat called "Off-Duty."
Perhaps that's why his last day was relatively muted. Several officers who shook his hand outside the station said things like, "You'll be back."
Officer Michael Ogle Sr., who at 32 years is another mainstay of the Southeastern District, said he knows Starr outside of work and didn't even know Wednesday was Starr's last day.
"That's how he is," said Ogle. "If he does something heroic, he'll go on the back burner. He won't brag about nothing."
Starr's philosophy, as an officer and a co-worker, was simple: Treat people how you want to be treated.
As an officer, he corralled drunks in Fells Point, and was on the scene after a man killed his brother over a piece of chicken.
He helped deliver babies — two and a half, to be precise. The half was when the Fire Department showed up midway through the birth and took over.
He recalled one of the births.
"She said, 'The baby's coming now,' and I said, 'OK, let's do this together.'"
The day after a massive blizzard in 1979, Starr was asked to report to work at his post at Old Town Mall, the once-thriving outdoor shopping center in East Baltimore. He put his uniform on, and slogged from his home on Maryland Avenue and West 22nd Street through the snow along an empty Jones Falls Expressway.
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."
Officer David Sherman said officers like Starr don't get enough recognition from the department.
"We need to stay grounded, and they can remind everybody about what's right and wrong," Sherman said."When you have someone like that, that's a great thing to have."
As his last day wound down, Starr picked up a police radio from the front desk and walked into the parking lot. He thanked the dispatchers for "making me look good all these years."
Then he told the officers that he prays for them every night.
"You are in the best district," he said, and then closed with police parlance for an out-of-service officer: "Hold this unit 10-7."
Sun reporter Pamela Wood contributed to this article.
Born: Brooklyn, NY
Education: University of Baltimore
Occupation: Police officer, 38 years — all in the Southeastern DistrictCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun