NYPD's In-House Bee Expert Buzzes Off Into Retirement
MANHATTAN — Tony Bees has left the hive.
"I just kind of got tired," Planakis told DNAinfo New York. "I wanted to start working on my own hives."
The departure is bittersweet for the detective who was assigned to the force's Management and Buildings section.
"I loved it," he said of his time on the force. "It's two-fold. You're keeping the public safe, but you are also looking out for the safety of the honeybees."
Planakis works alone, but he has an undying admiration for the women and men of the Emergency Services Units and the FDNY in stations across the city, who often get the first call when a swarm develops.
"I can't say enough about them," he said. "My hat's off to them. They're highly trained and highly skilled. I'm really going to miss them. You knew they had your back."
Planakis' bee-wrangling has always been a side job — something he did in addition to his other police duties. But ever since he was a rookie officer, it seemed that some years the beekeeping was a full-time gig.
In the spring of 2011, for instance, he handled 33 swarms.
"I'd just finish with one call and another one would come in," he said.
His first call came in 1995. Planakis was assigned to the 114th Precinct in Astoria, but he volunteered to head to Harlem to handle a swarm. The bees in that case were embedded in a Russian pine that was growing out of a large cement planter, he said.
Nowadays, the Queens resident gently sucks up the bees with a vacuum, but on his first call all he had was a pair of leather gloves.
"I dug through the pine needles," he said, recalling that first assignment. "Once I had the queen, I knew I had the swarm."
Bees swarm when their nest becomes overcrowded and the queen leaves to find a new home.
"No one got stung and there was no incident," Planakis said. "After that, they kept calling me."
His largest swarm came this May on 48th Street in Astoria, where he vacuumed up 12 pounds of bees, or approximately 35,000 insects.
In a way, Planakis was born into beekeeping. His grandfather was from Crete, Greece and taught his son the craft. Tony's father taught him.
It was his dad's dream to tend hives in his own backyard, but bees were illegal in the city until a few years after his death.
"He never thought he'd see the day," said Planakis, who tends a garden of tomato and pepper plants that are pollinated by the bees. "I think he'd be happy if he was to see the operation."
"GOT BEES?" pic.twitter.com/bMi0MSFmLA— Anthony Planakis (@tonybees) August 5, 2014
Beekeeping was legalized in the city in 2010.
"They were considered wild animals," but that's a misconception, he said. "Bees are fairly safe in swarm mode. They're docile, but tell that to the person that's allergic."
Planakis has an unfailing admiration for the insects.
"It's the most perfect society," he said of the swarm. "They know what their duties are. There's no jealousy in the hive. There is no nepotism. They know what they have to do. You don't see them walking around with iPods or iPhones in their ears."
Planakis can sum it up in two words: "Merit and integrity," he said when asked what he liked most about bees. "They're hardworking and they know exactly what they need to do."
Though Planakis is retreating to his own hives and vegetable garden, he'll still be available in retirement.
"I told them to just keep calling," he said. "I'll keep doing it when I can, but keep checking the obituaries. If you see me in the obituaries, you have a problem."