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Donald Patterson, 80, former Philly detective, Pa. inspector general

Donald L. Patterson, 80, a former Philadelphia police official who became Pennsylvania's inspector general under Gov. Ed Rendell, died Tuesday, Dec. 6, of congestive heart failure at his home in Absecon, N.J.

Donald Patterson
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Donald L. Patterson, 80, a former Philadelphia police official who became Pennsylvania's inspector general under Gov. Ed Rendell, died Tuesday, Dec. 6, of congestive heart failure at his home in Absecon, N.J.

Mr. Patterson had a long and distinguished career in law enforcement, but it began humbly. He was a city Streets Department worker before deciding to take the test to join the Police Department.

He was sworn in as a patrolman in 1957. Over the next 23 years, Mr. Patterson rose through the ranks to become inspector of the detective bureau, responsible for the homicide, major crimes, and narcotics divisions."He was an excellent investigator, and very talented and articulate," said Arthur J. Matthews, a retired chief inspector who worked closely with Mr. Patterson for a decade.

"He was well-liked," Matthews said. "Losing him is like losing a member of my family."

Just when family members thought he had retired from law enforcement in 1980, Mr. Patterson surprised them by taking a job as director of security at Harrah's Marina Casino & Hotel in Atlantic City.

He then became director of operations at Trump Plaza Hotel & Casino and was promoted to vice president. It was because of his success there that Mr. Patterson was recruited to become corporate vice president of the President Casinos in St. Louis, in charge of casinos at three sites.

In 2003, he took on what was perhaps his greatest law enforcement challenge. On April 22, Rendell announced that Mr. Patterson was his pick as the state's inspector general, bringing to the job "unparalleled experience and qualifications."

The appointment came at a time when the Pennsylvania State Police was roiled by allegations of misconduct. A series of lawsuits and arrests in the preceding months had pointed to a pattern of widespread sexual misconduct in the agency.

It was Mr. Patterson's task to investigate and issue a report. When he did so in September 2003, the report concluded that the agency had exercised its disciplinary powers over its own ranks inconsistently and leniently.

The document recommended 40 changes, including a crackdown on discipline, steps to move decisively against offenders, and the creation of a toll-free number for the public to report allegations against troopers. The governor immediately endorsed the changes.

Rendell said Thursday that he chose him for the job because Mr. Patterson understood the way police departments ought to work, the pressures police are under, and the need for impeccable police conduct at all times.

"He was a straight shooter," Rendell said. "I had great confidence in him. His reputation was unassailable."

Rendell said Mr. Patterson did not disappoint then, and his death now is a loss for law enforcement.

"He was a remarkable, smart, sensitive, strong person, beloved by the men who worked for him. If every police chief in America was like Don Patterson, we wouldn't have the problems we are having," Rendell said.

Born in Philadelphia to Thelma Louise and Charles Frances Patterson, he was reared in South Philadelphia and educated in Catholic schools. He attended St. Joseph's University and graduated from the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va.

He served in the Army as a Green Beret and a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division.

"He proudly displayed a tattoo on his arm as a bragging right," his family wrote in a tribute.

Mr. Patterson retired in 2011. He spent time as a board member for the United Way, a member of the Homeboys club and the Knights of Columbus, and a eucharistic minister for St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church.

"He was very passionate about his church and its members," his family said.

He is survived by his wife of 63 years, Elaine M.; children, Linda L. Patterson Armington, Anthony, Theresa Patterson-Brown, and Donald Jr.; seven grandchildren; and nieces and nephews.

A viewing starting at 9 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 13, will be followed by a 10 a.m. Funeral Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul, 1723 Race St. Interment is in Holy Cross Cemetery, Mays Landing, N.J.