Joseph Grasso, 72, of Glassboro, a South Jersey police officer for more than 25 years who also served for several years as president of a Gloucester and Camden Counties police union, died of cancer Monday, June 7, at his home.

Detective Grasso was fearless in every sense of the word, said those who knew him. He was not scared of responding to dangerous situations or arresting suspected criminals. He was willing to stand up to police administration and make a case for his fellow officers or negotiate better contracts.

"He was the type of person you would want to have your back," said friend and former colleague George Coraluzzo, who retired from the Glassboro Police Department in 1992.

Detective Grasso worked for just over three years for the Franklin Township Police Department before going to his hometown department in 1970, where he stayed for 23 years.

During his tenure there, he became the go-to guy for the tough investigations, said Glassboro Chief Alex Fanfarillo.

"He was an aggressive officer . . . who took on numerous tasks," Fanfarillo said. "He was the experienced guy."

He used his strong demeanor on behalf of the Police Benevolent Association Local 178, which represented about a dozen police agencies in Gloucester and Camden Counties. He led the union for 10 years through the late 1980s.

As president of the local, he was able to get "better contracts, better wages, and better benefits," said former police dispatcher Marie McEvoy of Glassboro.

After retiring from the Glassboro department, Detective Grasso missed investigating cases, so he started his own private investigation company, his daughter Suzanne Morgan said.

He took any case in which he believed he could find justice - whether a car accident or a child-custody case.

He also ran Security Identification Systems, which made ID cards for municipal employees, his daughter said.

Detective Grasso was born and raised in Glassboro and graduated from Glassboro High School in 1956. He served as a parajumper in the special services of the Air Force for about three years.

After returning from the Air Force in 1962, he worked for General Electric Co. for a few years before becoming a police officer.

"He was the defender of all," his daughter said, adding that it was a natural move for her father to become an officer.

Along the way, McEvoy said, he inspired many people - including her - to become police officers or be better officers.

When she was 12, a young Detective Grasso responded to her house after she called 911 when she thought someone was under her bed.

"He had a great smile that made you feel at ease," she recalled. "I was petrified. . . . He checked the whole house."

She ended up working as a dispatcher while Detective Grasso was still on the force and continued to admire his professionalism and dedication, she said.

In recent years, he had dedicated himself to helping his youngest daughter, Angelique, succeed at figure skating. He was president of the Hollydell Figure Skating Club.

In addition to his daughters, Mr. Grasso is survived by son Carmelo and daughter Lisa Ann; seven grandchildren; four brothers; and three sisters.

A viewing will be from 9:30 to 11 a.m. Friday, June 11, at the Church of St. Bridget, 125 Church St., Glassboro. A Funeral Mass will follow at 11:30 a.m. at the church. Interment will be at Gloucester County Veterans Memorial Cemetery, Williamstown.

Contact staff writer Claudia Vargas at 856-779-3917 or cvargas@phillynews.com.