[Tony Bees' bee tattoo. All photos by Max Touhey.]
In New York City, there is one man who stands between the unsuspecting citizenry and the swarms of honeybees lurking in the shadows: NYPD Detective Anthony "Tony Bees" Planakis.
"I tell them, if you ever see my name in the obituaries, you're in trouble," Tony jokes in the backyard of his Rego Park home, where he keeps five beehives as well as a garden with cucumbers, spinach, and chili peppers. Since 1995, he has held the unofficial position of NYC's Bee Cop, responding to around 20 calls per summer when swarms escape from nearby hives and set up shop on the nearest tree, stop sign, fire hydrant, or whatever. He arrives, special bee vacuum in hand, scoops up the swarms, and distributes them among a network of fellow apiarists in upstate New York and Connecticut. This summer he gave out three quarters of a million bees.
[Tony's personal hives, which yield 400 pounds of honey a year.]
"Everybody's like, I want to do your job," he says. "And I'm like, 'What job?' I work in budget and procurement and building maintenance." Tony's interest in bees started long before his involvement with the police department – he got into it as a teenager, learning from his father, also an avid beekeeper. Until 2010, when the laws concerning beekeeping were changed in New York, he kept his hives in Connecticut.
Before Tony, the job was done by "a priest who did it twenty years ago" and a long-since retired officer from the Bronx. And, if the past is any indication, whoever gets it next might not know what hit him. "They ask you in the academy to list on a card what all your skills and professions are," he explains. "You know, what you did before you came on the job. So, I'm sitting there in roll call one day and I see the sergeant walking towards me and I'm like, ah, shit. He stops right in front of me and I go, 'Hey, Sarge,' and he goes, 'Bees?' and I go, 'Yeah, where?' Just like that. And that was it." The "Tony Bees" nickname, he says, started in the early 2000s, around the time The Sopranos got big.
Tony's personal hives yield 400 pounds of honey per year, which he collects all at once every September, flavored with whatever plant the bees happen to be pollinating at the time – wildflower, clover, etc. (We can attest, from personal experience, that all of the varieties are delectable, and a highly enjoyable eating experience. The chili peppers, less so.)
[The 100 percent non-factual story of Tony's bee necklace.]
It's not a job without risks. "This year I got hit more than I did in 20 years," he says. "Four times on the fingers, once on the eye up above, once on the eye down below." Most of the stings came from a particularly disagreeable swarm on Broome Street, which was aggravated by cooling winds.
Of course, that has done little to suppress his enthusiasm. "I was nine years old the first time I was stung by a bee and I was like, screw this shit. I'm not into this," Tony remembers. "But then in 1977 I started working on the hives and I was like, this isn't so bad. Treat 'em with respect, they respect you. That's how it is."
· Tony Bees coverage [Curbed]