Richard McDowell Jr., 79, of Philadelphia, a retired Pennsylvania State Police lieutenant, died Saturday, July 27, of cancer at Lankenau Medical Center in Wynnewood.
Lt. McDowell was one of the first African Americans to join the Pennsylvania State Police and he served for 30 years in various capacities, working his way up to lieutenant, according to a biography on file with the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives.
Born in Bladen County, N.C., he was the son of Lottie Johnson and Richard McDowell Sr. He graduated from Bladen Central High School in 1957 and served in the Army from 1958 to 1961.
He enlisted in the State Police in September 1961. After completing cadet training, he helped to organize the Pennsylvania Crime Commission. His second assignment was Troop K at the Belmont Barracks in Philadelphia.
In 1971, he became the first African American to be appointed as an aide to the state attorney general, according to the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives. At that time, J. Shane Creamer was the attorney general.
In 1978, Mr. McDowell was promoted to lieutenant and became commander of staff services at Troop E in Erie.
He returned to Troop K in Philadelphia as commander of the patrol section. He continued in that role from June 1979 until September 1988, when he became commander of liquor control enforcement in eastern Pennsylvania.
As a high-profile police official, he was often quoted in the press. In October 1987, he told The Inquirer that a 10-person unit he supervised to track and suspend vehicle operators without the required auto insurance had a 35,000-case backlog in Philadelphia. But between January and October, the unit had completed 28,000 separate cases, he said.
When the law first went into effect, “people were stealing tags like crazy,” he told The Inquirer. “But now they are much more elaborate,” meaning motorists paid tag companies for license plates under false identities that were harder for investigators to track.
In a separate case in 1987, Lt. McDowell and another police official took aim at the hundreds of young drag racers in souped-up cars who gathered on 11th Street south of Pattison Avenue in South Philadelphia. The noisy drag races had been going on for years, area residents complained.
On one night in early December 1987, Philadelphia and state police showed up in plainclothes and rousted 185 drivers, checking for license, registration, and car serial numbers. Of the drivers pulled over, 85 were ticketed for minor violations and five had their cars confiscated. Lt. McDowell coordinated the joint raid, the Daily News reported.
He was affiliated with the FBI National Academy Associates Inc., Fraternal Order of Police, Police Chiefs Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania, International Police Association, Lambda Alpha Epsilon, and the National Order of Black Law Enforcement Executives.
He was a member of the Leonard C. Irving Lodge #994 of the Elks for more than 40 years. He was a past grand ruler of the Elks, and a teacher, mentor, and friend to many, his family said.
In 1970, he married Barbara Freeman. They had three children whom they raised in Philadelphia.
“He was a very supportive dad and grandfather,” said his daughter Deborah Scott.
In addition to his wife and daughter, he is survived by another daughter, Robin Bennette; a son, Gregory; seven grandchildren; and a nephew and nieces.
A viewing will be from 9 to 11 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 7, at Pinn Memorial Baptist Church, 2251 N. 54th St., Philadelphia. A funeral will follow at 11. Burial is private.