Chancellor, Board of Trustees Recognize Bravery of Pitt Police

Issue Date: 
July 9, 2012

This is the print version of Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg’s recognition of the bravery and valor of the Pitt Police who responded to the March 8, 2012, shooting at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic (WPIC). This presentation was made during the June 22 Board of Trustees meeting.

Let me begin by stating that I have the strongest feelings of respect, affection, and gratitude for our University of Pittsburgh Police. And those already strong feelings have deepened over the course of recent months—not only for me, but for the entire University community.

Campus policing is a form of law enforcement that takes an unusual combination of professional abilities and personal qualities. That is particularly true for a university of Pitt’s size located in a major city setting. We have more than 27,000 students on our Pittsburgh campus. Most of them are young, and large numbers of them are experiencing the exhilarating freedom of being truly away from home for the first time. Not surprisingly, they do not always act like fully mature adults. For our police officers, this means that every day brings far more “blurry lines” than you would see in almost any other setting.

But our police officers also provide much of the general policing for an urban area that is the third-busiest commercial district in Pennsylvania, trailing only Center City Philadelphia and Downtown Pittsburgh. But just to say that Oakland is “busy” does not fully describe it. It is both the site of some of the most wonderful work done anywhere on the face of the earth, and it sometimes is a magnet for bad people intending to do bad things.

Our University has the third-largest police department in Allegheny County. In the opinions of most and to the credit of a number of people, including Executive Vice Chancellor Jerry Cochran, it also is one of the best-trained departments anywhere. Our officers train for situations that they hope will never arise. In fact, in the 17 years that I have been Chancellor, no Pitt Police officer had fired his or her gun in the line of duty until March 8, 2012.

I continue to be overwhelmed when I think about the terrible things that could have happened at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic if our officers had not arrived so quickly. On that horrifying day, all the good that normally comes from a neighborhood dedicated to education and healing was shattered by the actions of one single person. Were it not for the swift and effective actions of the first responders—our Pitt Police—the list of casualties might have increased to an unimaginable level.

To give just one example, about a month after the shootings at WPIC, I received a letter from a judge from Westmoreland County. He is someone I have known for 30 years; he is a longtime member of the Pitt-Greensburg Advisory Board; and when we honored him as a Legacy Laureate, I had the chance to meet other members of his family.

What the judge told me in his letter was that one of his sons whom I had met, a fellow in the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Program, was concealed in his first-floor office as the shooter discharged 20 or 30 shots in the hallway just outside his office door. We do not know how many stories, like this one, would have ended in a different way without the effective intervention of our police, but most of us are convinced those numbers would not have been small.

Standing sentry along the pathways leading to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in our nation’s capital are four bronze sculptures of lions watching over their cubs—a strong symbol of “the strength, courage, and valor that are hallmarks of those who serve and protect.” Beneath one of those lions are the words that captured the actions of our Pitt Police on March 8: “In valor there is hope.”

When our officers entered the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, they brought hope to the innocent bystanders under siege. They risked their own lives by moving to deal with a dangerous situation. Their actions were a product of their courage, skill, and training and are a testament to the professionalism of the entire Pitt Police force, which we see so vividly every day.

On behalf of the University of Pittsburgh, the Board of Trustees wishes to publicly express—to the involved officers and to the entire department—not only the pride we have in you, but the gratitude we have for your bravery on March 8—and every other day.