Leo F. Matrangola, who was Bel Air's police chief for 24 years before his recent retirement and earlier headed a vice and narcotics unit in Baltimore County, died of leukemia Sunday at his Street home. He was 62.
Born in Cape May County, N.J., he was the son of Francis Joseph Matrangola, a radio station owner and broadcaster, and Mary Ulicia Souders Matrangola. The family moved to Harford County when he was a child. He was a 1970 graduate of John Carroll High School, where he played basketball, football and lacrosse.
He earned a degree in criminal justice at Towson University and a master's degree in legal studies from the University of Baltimore. He was a 1985 graduate of the FBI National Academy.
"Leo was honest, loyal and faithful to the people who worked for him," said James V. McMahan Jr., a friend who is a Harford County Council member and former Bel Air police commissioner. "He was cut out to be a small-community police officer. He had the right temperament. He could let certain things roll off his back, and he would address the serious things that affect the community."
Mr. McMahan recalled that Mr. Matrangola once told him that as a child growing up in Harford County, he admired the police officers who helped pupils cross the street.
"He told me how much he admired my father, who was also the Bel Air police chief," said Mr. McMahan. "After Leo got the job, ... he proudly wore my father's badge."
He joined the Baltimore County Police Department in September 1970 and rose to supervise its vice and narcotics unit as a lieutenant commander.
In 1989, he led a raid at the Northbrook Apartments complex in Hillendale. He and his men found cocaine, marijuana plants and three handguns. A Baltimore Sun article said 20 people were arrested.
He had retired from Baltimore County before taking the Bel Air post April 1, 1991. A Sun article that year said he was the town administration's top choice for the job that attracted 69 applicants. He retired July 3 of this year.
"I admired Leo because he was a leader in public safety in Harford County," said Bel Air Town Administrator Jesse Bane. "He took a small police department that was well run but somewhat hampered by budget limitations and built it into one of the finest smaller police departments in the state. He knew everybody. If he needed anything for his department, he did everything in his power to get it. He looked at grants, foundations and to the business community."
"He was a fine chief of police and he was a good man," said Bel Air's former chief, James Monaghan, who held the post in the 1970s and 1980s.
Mr. Matrangola was also a certified police instructor in Maryland. He had been an instructor at Baltimore County's police academy and often conducted training sessions at police departments in the Baltimore area.
In his Bel Air post, Mr. Matrangola told a Sun reporter, he oversaw a 52-member department that investigated drugs, gambling and prostitution, as well as illegal sales of alcohol to minors, among other things.
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"I was always attracted to law enforcement in Harford County, but the opportunity was in Baltimore County," he said when he took the Bel Air post. "I always wanted to come back to Harford County. I wish the starting day was this Monday, not three weeks from now."
He enjoyed playing tennis and fishing and kayaking on the Susquehanna River. He lived on a hilltop farm where he kept horses.
"He cared for his family most of all," said his son, Geoffrey Leo Matrangola of Columbia. "And he considered quite a few people to be family that another person might consider acquaintances."
Plans for a memorial service are incomplete.
In addition to his son, survivors include his wife of 45 years, Diane Pennington Matrangola; two brothers, Paul Matrangola of Bel Air and Peter Matrangola of West Chester, Pa.; three sisters, Angela Larkin of North Carolina, Theresa Raker of Florida and Gemma Regan of Indiana; and two granddaughters.