For Veteran Phila. Officer, Duty Calls In Bucks

Posted: January 09, 1989

Philadelphia police Capt. Francis P. Friel was scheduled to be promoted next month to inspector, a well-earned advancement, in the view of his peers in the department, for an officer who took on the mob - and won.

But the 28-year veteran, who scored a perfect 100 in the inspector's examination, decided instead to pass on the promotion and retire Friday. Today he'll begin another career in law enforcement as director of public safety in Bensalem Township.

"It would have been my fondest dream to be promoted," said Friel, 46, in a recent interview. "But Bensalem's needs happened to coincide with Frank Friel's needs. They needed a public safety director, and Frank Friel wanted to run a police department."

The sprawling Bensalem Township Building on Hulmeville Road where Friel will direct a staff of more than 80 township officers, 12 civilian employees, the volunteer fire department and the township's emergency medical services, is a far cry from Friel's cramped, inner-city headquarters in a former health clinic at Fourth Street and Girard Avenue.

From that North Philadelphia office for the last two years, the soft- spoken, well-dressed investigator who rarely carried a service revolver ran the department's Organized Crime/Intelligence Unit.

It was between 1982 and 1986 that Friel established himself as the investigator whom organized crime may have feared most. During those years when he was a lieutenant, he headed a unique, inter-agency group of law enforcement officers known as the Organized Crime Task Force whose sole job was to combat the rash of mob killings then occurring in the Philadelphia area.

Comprising a half dozen FBI agents and about an equal number of city homicide detectives, the task force worked out of FBI headquarters in the Federal Building.

"It was a revolutionary concept to have federal agents working homicides," Friel said. "It was a blending of those components that made it successful."

Indeed, the score card reflects their success. Working with investigators

from the New Jersey and Pennsylvania State Police, the task force took on Nicodemo "Little Nicky" Scarfo, then reputedly the head of organized crime in Philadelphia and South Jersey, and many of his subordinates.

Last year, Friel, the task force and prosecutors were rewarded for their work when Scarfo and 16 of his associates were convicted of racketeering and conspiracy charges.

"There hasn't been a (mob) murder since 1985, so we're pretty convinced we got the right guy in Scarfo," Friel said.

Another proud moment in his career was when he labored to free a man wrongfully accused of a double murder. Neil Ferber, 40, was convicted by a jury in May 1982 of first-degree murder and sentenced to death for the 1981 murders of reputed organized-crime figure Chelsais "Steve" Bouras and a companion, Jeannette Curro, in a South Philadelphia restaurant.

Friel uncovered information that Ferber was not the killer and his conviction was overturned in 1986 and charges subsequently dropped. Friel's part in the investigation was highlighted in a CBS-TV 60 Minutes segment.

Friel's police career began in 1960 at a time when the department was looking for teenagers fresh out of high school to serve as "adjutants" or police helpers. After graduating from Frankford High School, he went through the Police Academy and served in clerical positions until he was 20, when he received his gun and became a full-fledged officer.

Friel credits those early days with giving him the chance to learn the department's intricate paperwork procedures. He credits former Police Commissioner Kevin M. Tucker's decision to send him and a number of other commanders to Harvard to learn management techniques as the reason he yearned to run his own police department.

"You have that training and you look for some place to use it," said Friel, who spotted an advertisement for the Bensalem public safety post in the Wall Street Journal. "It was an extremely lengthy process," he said, describing the various tests the township asked him to take.

"I was very impressed with the selection process," he said. "It was very, very professionally done."

Friel said he planned to move to Bensalem. He said he also planned to ''evaluate" the township police force before making any changes.

"I think what I know of the officers in Bensalem is that there is an abundance of talent," he said. "It's incumbent upon me to direct that talent."

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