Joseph W. Dembeck, a Philadelphia police officer for 34 years, most of it spent in the 14th District at Germantown Avenue and Haines Street, died Friday after a long battle with cancer. He was 69 and lived in Cape May Court House, N.J.
In accepting the Fencl Award at a luncheon ceremony in the Daily News' former offices at Broad and Callowhill streets, Joe lauded Fencl, the late police chief inspector who led the civil-affairs squad and was skilled at defusing dangerous situations on the street.
Joe could easily have been describing himself when he said that Fencl "had incredible communication skills, an ability to listen to people. He won people over with his honesty."
Then-Police Commissioner Richard Neal had high praise for Joe. "I live in the 14th District," he said, "and I have viewed Officer Dembeck from afar and up close at 14th District community meetings. He epitomizes what community policing is all about."
Joe described his job this way: "Community policing is walking through a neighborhood, finding out firsthand how to help people we're sworn to protect."
He said his biggest problem as an officer was dealing with the drug scourge.
"Crack creates a ripple effect," he said. "First it destroys the user, then the user's family, and finally the user's neighborhood."
Joe, then 52, was in the hospital battling cancer when he got the news of the award, which carries a silver trophy and a $1,000 cash prize. He had been working out of the district's new mini-station at Germantown Avenue and Hortter Street, one of the department's innovations to increase the police presence in neighborhoods.
Joe spent the last few years of his police career in the organized-crime/intelligence unit. After his retirement in 2003, he worked in security for Chestnut Hill Academy for a time.
Joe was born in Philadelphia to John Dembeck and the former Alice McGowan. He was raised in Hunting Park and graduated from Cardinal Dougherty High School in 1962. He later lived in Oxford Circle, and moved to the Shore in 2005.
"He was a hell of a cop," said his brother Frank, a retired homicide detective. "He was the reason I got into the police department."
Joe's twin brother, Jack, was also a Philly cop, part of his career spent on the Highway Patrol.
One of the loves of Joe's life, apart from his family, was his shih tzu Spirit.
In retirement, Joe enjoyed surf and deep-sea fishing, keeping up with the Philly sports teams and challenging himself with the New York Times crossword puzzle. He was a member of the Stone Harbor Lions Club.
Besides his brothers, he is survived by his wife, the former Rita MacBride; three daughters, Jill Ormond, Jeannine Ricchezza and Amy Guenkel; a son, Joseph Louis Dembeck; a sister, Honey Greco; and five grandchildren. He was predeceased by another sister, Alice Diano.
Services: Will be tomorrow at Radzieta Funeral Home, 9 Hand Ave., Cape May Court House. Contributions in his name may be made to the Love of Linda Cancer Trust, P.O. Box 1053, Wildwood NJ 08260.