Joseph Cella Sr., Anti-drug Crusader

Posted: December 24, 1991

When U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter was district attorney, he asked the Police Department to assign Joseph M. Cella Sr. to his office to help form a narcotics unit.

Cella, 59, who died Sunday, quickly developed a network of informants that led to scores of drug raids and drew national attention to Specter's office.

But Cella's police work didn't stop with putting drug dealers behind bars. He became active in prevention, making drug education a part of his life. He volunteered to meet with parents worried about their children getting hooked on drugs.

"The phone rang often at our house while I was young," said his son, Joseph Jr., now a city detective. "Parents were always calling my father for advice. I know he helped many, many kids stay away from drugs. They called

from all over the country.

"He was a man who was very tough in the enforcement of the laws, and yet still had the compassion to realize the weaknesses involved in drug addiction," Cella said. "He often spoke at high schools and civic associations, warning about drug use."

District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham, who met the elder Cella when she was a young assistant DA, said: "Joe was the prototype of the old-fashioned, good cop. He really had a second sense about the criminal mind and its workings. He was a gumshoe. When he went undercover as an investigator, he had a list of contacts and snitches as long as your arm."

After 11 years in the DA's office, Cella returned to the Police Department, finishing up a 28-year career in 1985, when he retired to take a job as a security officer at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.

During his career, Cella was awarded 25 police commendations. He also received service awards from the South Philadelphia Business Association and the Manayunk Neighborhood Council, and in 1985 was awarded Officer of the Month for helping to catch at bank robber.

Cella was an elected delegate for the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 5, and was chaplain for the American Legion Police Post. He was also a member of the Knights of Columbus, Fourth Degree, and served as Deputy Grand Knight of Regina Coeli Council (a Catholic men's organization). He was also a member of the League of the Sacred Heart, an organization of Catholic men and women in law enforcement and firefighting.

In 1982 he was inducted into the Legion of Honor of the Chapel of Four Chaplains.

Before entering the Police Department, Cella spent two years in the Army fighting in the Korean War.

Cella is survived by his wife, Joan, and along with Joseph Jr., sons Michael and Thomas. A fourth son, Anthony, died of cancer four years ago. Other survivors include three brothers, Jack, William and James; a sister, Marie Cella S.S.J. (Sisters of St. Joseph); and six nephews, two nieces and three grandchildren.

The family asked that any donations be made to St. Christopher's Pediatric Oncology, or Thomas Jefferson University Bodine Center for Cancer Treatment.

A viewing will be held on Thursday at the John F. Fluehr Funeral Home, Cottman Avenue and Rowland Street, between 7 and 9 p.m. Mass of Christian Burial will be held Friday at 10 a.m. at Our Lady of Ransom Roman Catholic Church, 6700 Roosevelt Blvd. Internment will follow at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, Cheltenham Avenue and Easton Road.

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