Richard Zappile, law enforcement veteran in Philadelphia

Richard A. Zappile, 70, a longtime law enforcement official in Philadelphia, died Jan. 6 at Jefferson University Hospital of complications from a stroke nearly a year ago.

Last Jan. 29, Mr. Zappile collapsed while walking his dog near his South Philadelphia home. Doctors at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital found that he had brain cancer. He had been hospitalized or in home care ever since.

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Richard A. Zappile

Mr. Zappile was best known as the first deputy commissioner of the Philadelphia Police Department from 1995 until April 1998. He took the job at the request of then-Police Commissioner Richard Neal, who was looking for a strong leader to oversee the city's 23 Police Districts.

"Rich brought a lot to the table," Neal said. "He was a totally committed individual. Many times we used the term 'friend,' but he was not just a friend, he was totally committed to the job.

"It was a tremendous task, but he served extremely well in it," Neal said. He described Mr. Zappile as a "people person," able to get along with everyone.

Underlings, however, some of whom called him "the Zapper," said Mr. Zappile was known for cracking the whip if they stepped out of line.

"He always took it with a certain amount of humor," Neal said of the nickname.

During Neal's tenure from 1992 to 1998, policing had a strong community component. Civilians were invited to serve with police on advisory councils in the 23 districts, and they also could address police district captains directly to solve crime-related problems.

"He was in the forefront of all those issues," Neal said.

During Mayor Ed Rendell's second term in office, from January 1996 to January 2000, he named Mr. Zappile deputy mayor for criminal justice programs, gun violence, and drug control policy.

Mr. Zappile served from 1998 to June 1999, when he left to become chief of the Philadelphia Housing Authority Police. He retired officially in 2012, but stayed busy as a professor of criminal justice at Strayer University and as a law enforcement consultant.

Mr. Zappile was born in Philadelphia, the son of Marie Cella and Richard J. Zappile. He was reared in South Philadelphia and graduated in 1963 from St. John Neumann High School.

He earned a bachelor's degree from Temple University and a master's degree from St. Joseph's University, both in criminal justice. He also studied at the Federal Bureau of Investigation National Academy, and Northwestern University's Traffic Safety Institute.

Mr. Zappile joined the police force in 1966 and worked his way up through the ranks. He distinguished himself as a leader, holding such posts as chief of human resources and chief of detectives before becoming first deputy commissioner in 1995.

Former Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham said she had known Mr. Zappile for decades while they worked together on criminal cases, he as policeman, she as prosecutor.

When Abraham, also a former judge, ran for mayor in 2015, she looked to Mr. Zappile for help in filming a TV campaign commercial. Mr. Zappile agreed to portray a Common Pleas Court judge.

"We rented my old courtroom, No. 53, and I gave him my old judicial robe," she said. "He was great. He had his glasses on. He was stern. It was perfect. We had such fun. That's what you have to think back on - the good times."

He is survived by his wife, Stephanie Thomas Zappile; sons Carmen and Richard T.; daughters Simone, Marlena ZappileThomas, and Charlotte; four grandchildren; a sister; and many nieces and nephews.

A nephew, Vincent Visco, is a member of the elite Philadelphia police Highway Patrol. Son Richard is a corporal with the Delaware River Port Authority Police.

A viewing starting at 9 a.m. Friday, Jan. 13, will be followed by a Funeral Mass at noon at St. Monica Roman Catholic Church, 2422 S. 17th St., Philadelphia. Interment is private.

Contributions may be made be in his memory to the FOP Lodge No. 5 Survivors Fund, 11630 Caroline Rd., Philadelphia 19154, or through fop5.org/

bcook@phillynews.com

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