The mayor of Oakland is leaving office.
Tony DiPaolo, veteran of 39 years with the Pitt Police, is retiring Sept. 10 from patrolling the neighborhood where he grew up and the campus on which he befriended so many staff and faculty that he acquired the nickname of “mayor.”
“You get to know the people who work here, their families — that’s what I like about this job,” says DiPaolo. “I just enjoy being out, being seen. I get asked: ‘Is there somebody here you don’t know?’ ”
DiPaolo’s family moved here from Italy in 1958, when he was 4. Seeing friends’ fathers working as city cops, in what was then Pittsburgh’s No. 4 Police Station on Semple Street, inspired his interest in police work at a young age, he says.
After graduating from Central Catholic High School in 1971 and earning an associate degree in criminal justice from Community College of Allegheny County, DiPaolo began working for a private security firm, then as a police officer at Forbes Hospital in Monroeville. When a position with the Pitt Police opened up in 1979, DiPaolo says, he jumped at the chance to work in familiar territory.
Through the years, he has handled every type of police case. Serious medical calls, he says, “are the toughest of all. If they make it, that’s what we’re hoping for, but sometimes, you know …”
He recalls working extra hours during the 2012 bomb threats that plagued the Oakland campus, and to provide security at Pitt Stadium, as well as on Oakland streets during Super Bowl celebrations and public protests. There also has been the occasional naked swimmer to corral, he recalls. DiPaolo says he prefers to warn people and correct actions when he can, rather than make an arrest.
“You’re dealing more with young kids — not only people coming to campus to go to school here, but in the neighborhood,” he says. “You’ve got to know how to talk to them” about not only legalities but about following the student code of conduct.
DiPaolo has seen the force evolve from paperwork to computers, gaining added duties and full police powers in the 1980s after a legal ruling granted them jurisdiction over territory adjacent to Pitt property, covering not only Oakland but areas near outlying University facilities. “I don’t mind the change — it’s good,” he says. “I learned from the younger guys. They learned from me.”
He served a stint as a community relations officer, meeting with Oakland organizations and concerned residents about neighborhood issues. He also spent half a dozen of his years on the force as a field training officer, teaming with two colleagues to show new officers how to navigate the campus and respond to calls.
DiPaolo has been able to pass along his people skills too, he says. It’s vital that police officers learn to approach and speak to strangers in a useful way.
Now, he says, he is ready to retire, although he wasn’t certain at first that the Pitt Police mandatory retirement age of 65 fit him. But he’s seen too many people wait too long to leave their jobs, then not be healthy enough to enjoy the time off.
Still, it may be hard for DiPaolo to stop working. As he was standing on Forbes Avenue to have his photograph taken, he heard a siren and immediately stepped into the street to stop traffic for a fire truck.
DiPaolo can always be found walking his dogs near his home in Greenfield, he says. And he’ll maintain the Pitt connection for one special, extra reason, he says: His wife, Marilyn DiPaolo, has been a library specialist in the University Library System for 45 years and has no plans to retire.