By BOB KAPPSTATTER
Daily News Bronx Bureau Chief
Every veteran detective has his funniest story, and Detective Howard Denton, known to legions of Bronx cops as Howie the Hump, is no exception.
It involves a man who came into the detective squad one day seeking protection from a man he said was threatening to shoot him.
"The guy is wearing a closed Windbreaker and is real nervous, sweating," said Denton. "I get suspicious and leap across the desk and grab him. Turned out he was wearing two hubcaps tied with shoelaces as a bulletproof vest. My boss looks out the window and says, 'Well, at least they ain't my hubcaps.' "
Denton, a Police Department legend, will spend the last day of his 37-year career tomorrow where he spent most of it — at the 42nd Precinct, in the Morrisania neighborhood where he grew up, saw it fall on hard times and watched it slowly work its way back. He did his part by arresting countless bad guys.
"I walked into the Four-Two in 1962 as a rookie," Denton said earlier this week, "with the people I grew up with still living in the neighborhood. Seeing the neighborhood I grew up in deteriorate and burn, it was terrible, terrible.
"Now, there's a lot of rehab. I see it coming back, and maybe some of the work I've done here has helped. That makes me feel good," said the 59-year-old detective, whose talents and accomplishments earned him prized first-grade rank, the Medal of Valor for a 1981 running gun battle with a robber and the respect of chiefs he worked under.
"With all his years on the job, Howie never lost his sensitivity to the victims," said Deputy Chief Charles Kammerdener, former chief of Bronx detectives, now in charge of the department's drug war. "You can see that the way he works his cases — and solves them. He's always remained one of the best."
When Denton made detective in 1978, the precinct's squad was handling 2,000 cases a year, a far cry from today, with crimes at their lowest since the '60s.
"We were catching everything in those days. You barely had time to work one murder, before a fresh one came in," said Denton, who worked as lead detective in about 100 homicides and was involved in an additional 300 during his career.
The Howie the Hump moniker — "a lot of cops don't even know my last name" — came from his days as the roll call man at the Four-Two, handing out often unpopular assignments — "and the name stuck."
Many detectives leave the job with at least one unsolved case that still sticks in their craw. For Denton, it was the rapes and strangulation murders in 1988 of a mother and her 9-year-old daughter on E. 174th St. and Longwood Ave.
"I still have been working on it. And I know the case like it happened yesterday," Denton said wistfully. "Now it's in the hands of the cold case squad. But if they ever need me to help, I'll be there."