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Police chief guided by compassion, innovation

| Monday, Dec. 17, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
Ralph D. Pampena of Shaler (center), who worked his way up the ranks to police chief, died Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012. He was 79.

When Ralph Pampena was chosen to lead the Pittsburgh police homicide division, he had no experience with murder investigations.

But as he did at every other stage in his police career, he found out all he could about his new assignment.

“He learned every facet of homicide investigation,” said retired Pittsburgh Police Cmdr. Ron Freeman, who worked under Pampena in the homicide division. “He became so good at it, he revamped the way we did some investigations. He made it a better squad.”

Ralph D. Pampena of Shaler, who worked his way up the ranks to police chief, died Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012. He was 79.

Allegheny County Police Superintendent Charles W. Moffatt, who also worked for Mr. Pampena in the homicide division, considered his former boss a mentor.

Moffatt said Mr. Pampena had one of the sharpest minds of any police officer he's known.

“He was very detail-oriented,” Moffatt said. “He made sure everything got done and got done in a timely fashion.

He also showed great compassion for crime victims and their families.

“His overarching issues were always about serving the public and serving the victims and their families,” Freeman said.

Mr. Pampena joined the department in 1958, starting as a patrolman. He left for a short time in the 1980s to become the head of security at Carnegie Mellon University but returned to become the city's police chief in 1987.

“That's where his heart always was,” Moffatt said.

Freeman said Mr. Pampena made a point of getting his officers the equipment they needed to do their work.

“He was a very innovative person, and he liked to link basic police work and couple that with technology,” Freeman said.

Moffatt and Freeman remained friends with Mr. Pampena long after his time as police chief ended in 1990.

Freeman said he had a great sense of humor.

“Ralph was a gentleman, too. He was just a very people-oriented person, and he was dedicated to his profession, and he was just a perfect boss and a perfect friend,” Freeman said.

Mr. Pampena is survived by his children, Linda Marie Devine, Michael A. Pampena and Judy Findlay; four grandchildren; and a great-grandchild. A brother and sister preceded him in death.

Friends will be received from 1 to 4 and 6 to 8 p.m. Monday and Tuesday in John A. Freyvogel Sons Inc., 4900 Centre Ave. at Devonshire Street. Mass of Christian Burial will be at 10 a.m. Wednesday in St. Paul Cathedral, Oakland.

Jennifer Reeger is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6155 or jreeger@tribweb.com.

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