Weekly Feature

2010-04-08 / Front Page

‘Motorcycle cop’ retires after 33 years


Patrolman Kenton May Jr. will officially retire April 18 after a near-33-year career with the West Seneca Police Department. This spring would mark May’s 17th season as riding the radar-equipped motorcycle as part of his officer duties. Photo by John Rusac Purchase color photos at www.BeeNews.com Patrolman Kenton May Jr. will officially retire April 18 after a near-33-year career with the West Seneca Police Department. This spring would mark May’s 17th season as riding the radar-equipped motorcycle as part of his officer duties. Photo by John Rusac Purchase color photos at www.BeeNews.com West Seneca’s “motorcycle cop” has cruised the town’s streets for the last 17 years, nearly year round so long as the roads remained dry. But just as the temperatures are starting to go up, the man behind the aviator shades will be passing his helmet on to the next worthy officer.

Kenton May Jr. is fast approaching his mid-April retirement after nearly 33 years as a patrolman with the West Seneca Police Department. He became especially well known in town after spending nearly two decades as the officer on the motorcycle, braving almost any weather for a chance to ride.

“He’s just one of those unique individuals who did a fantastic job for the community,” said Chief of Police Edward Gehen.

At 29 years old, May decided to leave his 10-year job as a forklift operator for a graphics company in Depew — after high school, he was stationed at Ft. Leavenworth, Kan., while serving in the U.S. Army for two years — and followed in the footsteps of his father, who also was a patrolman in West Seneca for 34 years.

“I always looked up to him,” said May, who was born and raised in West Seneca, “So I thought, if I could make it, I’d like to do the same.”

After going through the Police Academy, a three-month training course that briefs all new officers on the “ins and outs” of police work, May was officially part of the squad.

For three and a half years, May worked alongside his father before his dad’s retirement and also picked up several tips from other senior officers he shadowed. Although it took some time after graduating from high school for May to become an officer, he eventually found that working for the Police Department was a good fit for his interests.

“I hated to take my days off when I first came on,” he said. “I didn’t want to miss anything.”

After May went through accident investigation school, his duties included responding to any serious or fatal accidents that occurred in town to help determine the cause of an accident.

“Even though a family is grieving and maybe found out something they didn’t want to know, it gives them closure ... so that’s a sense of accomplishment for me,” he said of the investigative work.

May also is a member of the department’s Traffic Enforcement Unit, which he said is very active.

“Not for giving tickets, but for making roadways safer,” he said. “And that’s what I try to do.”

As much as May would like to ride the Harley Davidson bike year round — he started riding a 1983 edition, which was replaced by a 1996 model (now on display at the Historical Society) and again by the current 2006 model — he predominantly rides in the spring and summer seasons. However, he’s been known to break it out as early as February or March and as late as November or December.

His duty on the bike, which is equipped with radar, a computer and printing system, is to look for such serious traffic infractions as speeding, running stop signs and red lights, unsafe lane changes and road rage, which he said has become more prevalent throughout the years.

“It’s sad to say, but wherever people are going, they want to be there yesterday, and God help them if anyone gets in their way,” he said, adding that there currently are no state laws pertaining to road rage.

Though May has been dispatched to “every call imaginable” throughout his 33 years of service, the worst incident to deal with, he said, was domestic violence.

“There’s been instances where I’ve walked in and the person had some kind of dangerous instrument,” he said, “So you have to talk them down ... it’s a little scary at times.”

Gehen specifically commended May for a particular incident in 2006 that involved a young boy who lit himself on fire as an attempt to end his life. Along with another officer, May was able to tackle the boy into a pile of snow. Though the teen received severe burns and leg injuries, May ultimately helped save his life.

“If it wasn’t for him and his actions, that boy would not have survived,” said Gehen. He added that the department has received countless letters of thanks from the community for May’s services after handling a call and that May has also received several letters of commendation from the Police Department.

“When he’s given an assignment, he always does an outstanding job ... he’s just one of those guys you never have to worry about,” Gehen said of May’s work ethic. “He’s got a heart of gold ... and is a genuine guy. And he’s also a good friend ... we will miss him tremendously.”

Though some days were slow and repetitious, May said there were enough days that provided variety to help sustain interest in the job. However, after 33 years of dealing with some “not so nice people” in the community, May said he’s starting to get burned out.

“But you always have your time where you’re able to help someone, who then shows appreciation with letters of thanks that are sent to the chief,” he said. “It just makes your day, like you’ve really accomplished something.”

Making the decision to retire was an easy one that he discussed with his wife of 35 years, Gladys. He said he gives his wife a lot of credit for being so independent throughout the years, after all the times May’s schedule took him away from his family.

“(Retiring) will be a transition period,” he said. “She’ll have to put up with me all the time now ... but we’re looking forward to it.”

May is especially excited to make plans with his wife to travel overseas, as well as take care of some long-needed maintenance work around the house. He also is looking forward to spending time with his grandchildren and three daughters, Tracy, Kelly and Lindsay.

As for the Harley, May said he’s not sure who will be the next to ride it but wouldn’t be surprised if the department discontinued it because of all the cutbacks related to the economy.

“I almost hope they retire it,” he said. “It just doesn’t seem right for someone else to ride it.”

May added that everyone in the Police Department has been terrific to him throughout his long career. He especially thanked the chief and assistant chief, who were always open to May’s suggestions to improve the department.

Return to top

Congratulations to one of the

Congratulations to one of the really good guys on the department. Enjoy the ride into retirement. You and the family deserve it. Enjoy and best of luck.