AFTER 25 years on the job, Chuck Cassidy could have written his own ticket to a cushier assignment.

He could have pursued a promotion, or asked to work in an office where he could hang all of the awards he had quietly accumulated. At age 54, he even could have started to plan for his retirement.

But Cassidy never wanted to hear of such talk. He had one goal in mind, and that was to continue working as a street cop in North Philly's diverse 35th Police District, headquartered in Fern Rock, where he had spent most of his career.

"With his reputation, he could've had any job he wanted, but he was the go-to guy for everybody out here," said Cassidy's boss, Capt. John McCloskey. "He just liked his job. He enjoyed going out of his way to help people."

It was that dedication to the people in his district that led Cassidy to the Dunkin' Donuts on Broad Street near 66th Avenue in West Oak Lane last Halloween morning.

Cassidy, who routinely checked in on the shop's employees and patrons, was shot in the head as he interrupted an armed robbery. He died the next day, leaving behind a wife and three children.

Tonight, Cassidy will be honored as a finalist at the 23rd George Fencl Award ceremony at Swan Caterers in South Philadelphia.

The Daily News has long used the Fencl Award to honor cops who bring courage, integrity, passion and dedication to their job, like the award's namesake, George Fencl, the late Civil Affairs inspector.

"In that sense, it really does fit Chuck," said Cassidy's brother-in-law Tony Conti.

"Our family didn't learn about what he meant to the community until he died. Then we got that outpouring of support and heard so much about all of the different people he affected."

Cassidy was routinely recognized for his ability to connect with a wide range of people - school kids, business owners, elderly folks - and make them feel like he genuinely cared.

"He was the guy who would go out and actually sit and listen when people had a problem and try to do something," McCloskey said.

"A lot of cops are always in a big hurry to make the next big arrest, but Chuck always took an extra five or 10 minutes with people, which is why his death affected so many people."

He also enjoyed the other side of his job - getting criminals off the street - and was still chasing suspects down on foot "at an age where you don't see too many guys running," McCloskey added.

Chief Inspector Joseph Sullivan, one of Cassidy's oldest friends on the force, said the Cardinal Dougherty High School alum shied away from praise and didn't even tell his family about many of the dozens of commendations he had received during his career.

"He didn't think the things he did were meritorious," Sullivan said. "He just thought that's what he was paid to do."

The warm reflections on Cassidy and his career still trigger a number of conflicting emotions, Conti noted.

"Obviously, it's hard, but with something like this award, we realize people are remembering him, and his memory is still alive," he said. *