Nassau police senior homicide Det. William Brosnan remembers working burglary patrol in Seaford's Seventh Precinct as a young cop, writing his reports on a typewriter and checking in with his supervisor on a pay phone.
Brosnan, who joined the force in 1972 and has investigated some of the county's most notorious killings -- including the 1993 LIRR massacre that left six people dead and the 2002 Lynbrook church murder of a parishioner and a priest -- retires Thursday after 42 years on the force.
The department's sixth-longest serving officer, Brosnan, 62, is a ubiquitous presence at county homicide scenes -- bright white hair, ice-blue eyes, clad in a suit and tie -- and was recently behind the yellow police tape after a human arm was found in a Hempstead yard.
Despite the demands of the job -- the danger, the stress, long stretches away from family -- Brosnan says he'd do it again.
"This is the greatest job on Earth, it really is," Brosnan said in a recent interview at police headquarters in Mineola. "I love coming to work."
Now, he said, it's time for a break from Room 242, aka the homicide squad.
"When you're working a case, you're working a case," said Brosnan, who is married with four grown children and three grandchildren. "You could leave at 1 in the morning and the boss calls at 1:30 and says, 'We need you back in.' I've gotten up from a lot of dinners. This is homicide. It's a commitment. Sometimes you don't go home for two or three days."
Glenn Ciccone, president of the Nassau Detectives Association, which represents the department's roughly 340 detectives, said Brosnan's "longevity makes him special. He works tirelessly. He didn't slow down. There's been a lot of long-standing detectives that kind of get a desk job. Billy was not like that. He always stayed a lead detective and worked as if it was his first day on the job."
Help for those who need it
Brosnan graduated from Lynbrook High School in 1969. He was a student at Nassau Community College when he joined the department on a whim: a friend had an extra application for the police test. He turned 21 while in the academy.
Seven years in, he was promoted to detective, a job he coveted. He then spent five years in the First Precinct in Baldwin. He's received 10 citations for his work, including the "meritorious police service award," Nassau police said.
By his own count, Brosnan was lead detective on 66 homicide cases and investigated hundreds more. One case was personal: On March 12, 2002, gunman Peter Troy killed two people inside Our Lady of Peace Church in Lynbrook, including the priest, whom he gunned down with a .22-caliber rifle on the altar of Brosnan's church.
"I received all my sacraments in that church," he said. "I probably knew half the parishioners."
But, Brosnan said, street homicide cases in Uniondale and Hempstead got his equal attention.
"It's not the big cases, the press cases. It's the cases that nobody knows their name and the family is looking for your help," he said. "The most satisfying thing is when you're able to put the case together and make an arrest."
An old-time leader
Det. Lt. John Azzata, commanding officer of the homicide squad, called Brosnan part of "the last era of the old-time detectives," saying he has both the "tenacity of an investigator and compassion."
Azzata said he remembers being a rookie and looking up to Brosnan as a detective in the Fifth Precinct. "When I used to go up there as a new police officer, Bill and his peers would straighten us up. It was old-school. It was, 'Kid, go sit down over there and don't talk to me till you're done,' " said Azzata, who said Brosnan has served as a mentor to younger detectives in the squad.
Azzata, now Brosnan's boss, said with a laugh, "It's funny how it went full cycle. And he still tells me what to do."
Brosnan still remembers the day he started working in homicide -- May 6, 1993. It was a long-awaited achievement.
"That was something I was striving for," he said. "Homicide is the ultimate crime. Anyone who wants to be a detective, that's the goal."