A memorial service will be Wednesday, March 13, for Arthur J. Matthews, 89, a former chief inspector with the Philadelphia Police Department, who died Wednesday, Feb. 27, of a heart ailment at home.
Inspector Matthews served on the Philadelphia police force from 1961 to 1980, rising quickly from patrolman to captain.
He became the first African American to command the police homicide division, in 1969, and, after scoring fourth on the police inspector’s exam, was appointed detective inspector with responsibility for units handling major crimes, organized crime, homicide, and narcotics.
At the same time, he lectured at West Chester University, Pennsylvania State University, Temple University, and Community College of Philadelphia.
In 1979, he was promoted to chief inspector in charge of detectives. A year later, when the casino industry was beginning to boom in Atlantic City, he left the force for a job in security at Harrah’s Marina Casino-Hotel.
In what would become his second career, he oversaw the installation of a casino surveillance system at Harrah’s. As a result, he became an expert in the field and was often called on to consult in other areas of the country where casino gambling had begun to thrive.
When he retired from casino security work, Inspector Matthews was already in his 80s, but determined not to let his mind grow fallow. He decided to research and write a book tracing the history of African Americans in the Philadelphia Police Department.
He told the stories of four black men who became police officers in 1881. The result of his labors was the 2016 Historical Commemoration of the Black in Blue, which is still available on Amazon.
He was a sought-after speaker once the book was released. “He loved traveling near and far, sharing the history of the police department,” his family said.
Inspector Matthews had gathered so much historical material that he decided to write a second book about the birth of the civil rights movement in Philadelphia. “He literally worked on the second book up to the day God called his name,” his family said. It will be published soon.
He donated his primary source material to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Open to researchers, it is titled the Black Cop of Philadelphia collection.
Because of his high profile, Inspector Matthews was often quoted in the press. In January 1975, when 20 Philadelphians were killed in 10 days during the start of the then-most violent year on record, he told the Standard-Speaker of Hazleton: “I believe it’s the times we’re living in. It’s not the economy; I don’t believe that just being poor makes you a killer. I think today’s morality makes some people hold life too cheaply.”
Born in Philadelphia, he was the son of Isaac and Olive Matthews. He attended Benjamin Franklin High School and Temple University. He was honorably discharged from the Army in 1953 after serving in the Korean War.
In 1961, he married Doris Elizabeth Hammock. The couple raised two children.
Family was important to “Art,” as he was called. “He was a man of few words, but when he did speak, somewhere in the conversation, he was going to brag about his wife, children, or grandchild,” his family said.
He is survived by his wife, Doris; a daughter, Jennifer S. Matthews; a son, Arthur Charles “Chuck” Matthews; and a grandson.