Former officer still on his beat

Police volunteer fought to get new station built

Cifala kept plan `on front burner'

Southern District facility opened this month


December 29, 2003|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,SUN STAFF

On the rainy day when Anne Arundel County's new police station opened, Joseph V. Cifala tidied the already gleaming kitchen, surveyed its perfectly waxed floors for blemishes and arranged and rearranged tables in the community room.

If it seemed as if Cifala was a nervous new homeowner about to show off his hard-earned property, that was because, in many ways, he was.

As president of the Southern District Anne Arundel County Police Community Relations Council, Cifala fought for more than a decade to secure funding for the $5 million building in Edgewater.

When it opened this month, Cifala couldn't have been happier.

"It was depressing for the officers to have to come to work in the old building," he says, referring to the former Southern District station, which is about one-third of the size of the new building and lacked amenities such as showers and lockers.

"We really needed this new building," he adds. "The worst thing you can have is an unhappy police officer."

Cifala, 75, would know. He spent two decades with the Falls Church, Va., police department, where he came to be known as "Officer Friendly" for his work with local schools and his reliably positive attitude.

He retired and moved to Turkey Point Island, just south of Annapolis. But he soon became involved with the Anne Arundel County Police Department as the volunteer president of the community relations council.

"I've never wanted to be anything other than a police officer," Cifala says.

He traces his love for law enforcement to one Christmas when he was growing up in Washington, D.C. His parents gave him a police officer's uniform, complete with a billy club, and Cifala says he never again contemplated any other career.

Cifala says his passion for police work has yet to fade.

In retirement, he devotes about 10 days each month to his duties as president of one of the four community relations councils for the Police Department.

He writes the group's monthly newsletter, which is mailed to more than 100 South County residents.

And he holds a monthly meeting at which residents and officers can communicate about local crime trends and crime prevention.

The meetings draw about 30 to 40 people, and Cifala's wife, Mary Ellen, always bakes cookies and cakes.

The couple have six children, six grandchildren and many great-grandchildren. Family photos are displayed on two walls of the Cifala home - a converted barn - in what Cifala calls his "Hall of Infamy."

One of his two sons, James B. Cifala, is an Anne Arundel County police sergeant. The younger Cifala, 40, works in crime prevention, following in his father's footsteps as a community-oriented police officer.

"He's 100 percent at fault for me being a police officer," Jim Cifala said of his father. "I'm proud of him and all of the work that he's done for law enforcement and for his community."

Joesph Cifala says he clings tightly to his community relations council presidency, a position he has held for about 17 years.

"I think it's necessary for the next person who does this to be really into it," he says, adding that it would pain him to see the council lose its vigor and stature.

During Cifala's tenure, he has developed relationships with several County Council members and other county leaders, such as Sheriff George F. Johnson IV and County Executive Janet S. Owens.

It was Cifala's friendship with former County Councilman John J. Klocko III that helped push through the capital funding for the police station.

Klocko died in a car accident in October last year.

The new building sits on land that was purchased by the county in 1989 with the intent of constructing county facilities such as a library and a police station.

Then, the community relations council doggedly lobbied the county to build the station, Cifala says.

"Mr. Cifala always kept the issue on the front burner with political leaders," said Southern District commander Capt. Thomas Rzepkowski, adding that he considers Cifala a good friend and a staunch advocate of law enforcement.

But for years, Cifala says, the county would earmark money for the station's construction only to divert it to other projects.

"Every year we'd think, `Oh, boy, we got the money,'" Cifala says. "But it wasn't until John Klocko stepped in that the money actually came through."

With the Southern District's 100 police officers now strolling through the halls of a new building instead of a cramped one from the early 1900s, Cifala is focusing on other projects.

He says he wants the community relations council to work more closely with TRIAD - a partnership of law enforcement and senior citizens for which Cifala is also a volunteer - to combat crimes against older county residents. "There's always work to be done," Cifala says.

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