Nation’s first female assistant police chief visiting Shaler library
The nation’s – and Pittsburgh’s – first female assistant police chief will discuss her career, memoir and documentary at 1 p.m. March 13 at Shaler North Hills Library.
The law enforcement veteran will sign copies of her 2017 book “Therese Rocco: Pittsburgh’s First Female Assistant Police Chief” available for $20, cash only.
At 19, Rocco joined the force as a clerk in the missing persons department in order to support her family residing in Pittsburgh’s Hill District.
Police officer and eventual Captain Mary O’Rourke mentored Rocco, helping her hone her investigative skills and attain the role of assistant police chief.
“I worked very, very close with police departments throughout the community, throughout the state of Pennsylvania and beyond, and I continued doing that for the entire years of my career in the law enforcement department,” Rocco, of Brookline, said.
Sharon Liotus has produced “Therese Rocco: The Rock,” a documentary premiering at 7 p.m. March 7 at the Sen. John Heinz History Center. The president of InterVue Productions said that police units also used Rocco’s expertise in homicide and burglary cases. Furthermore, she worked as a decoy in sexual abuse investigations.
Rocco said that she developed a particular interest in investigating cases involving missing children.
“Their stories bewildered me. I took them into consideration, and being of a very compassionate nature, I wanted to help them and that’s the way I started out. And it went on and on and on.”
Although she retired in 1994, Rocco still continues to work with the FBI to solve the case of Mary Ann Verdecchia – a 10-year-old Bloomfield girl who disappeared in 1962.
“To this day I am anxious to find out what happened to that little girl who walked off the face of the earth leaving not even the slightest clue.”
Both the book and the documentary devote time to the case.
Rocco appeared before the U.S. Senate to establish national protocols for investigating missing children.
During her years with the force, Rocco navigated discrimination in her male-dominated field. She said women were treated as “second-class citizens” at her workplace, given less training, lower salaries and not invited to important meetings compared to their male counterparts.
“I was not a woman that would cooperate with bringing cookies to the office or helping them decorate for a Christmas party. I was somebody that put my head in books, into dictionaries and sat at the desk and worked and worked and worked. And this is why I accomplished what I did. I applied myself.”
In 1989, first female Pittsburgh Mayor Sophie Masloff appointed Rocco assistant police chief.
The documentary features interviews with Rocco and forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht, Allegheny County Sheriff William Mullen and Wilkinsburg police Chief Ophelia Coleman. Additionally, the film includes stories from individuals who were abducted as children and later reunited with their families, as a result of Rocco’s work.
“I want people to glean that there’s a woman who started off with a very humble beginning, remained very humble her entire life, but was able to accomplish so much for children, for parents of missing children and for women on the force,” Liotus said.
Register for Rocco’s library event at shalerlibrary.org.
Admission to the documentary screening is free to the public, but pre-registration is encouraged. For more information, visit heinzhistorycenter.org/events/film-premiere-the-rock-therese-rocco
Check your local listings for another screening of the documentary in later March on WQED’s Filmmakers Corner.