Handler of slain Pittsburgh police K-9 Rocco promoted to sergeant | TribLIVE.com

Handler of slain Pittsburgh police K-9 Rocco promoted to sergeant

Tom Davidson
Tom Davidson | Tribune-Review
Sgt. Philip Lerza was promoted to sergeant on Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019. Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich is in the background.
Tom Davidson | Tribune-Review
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto administers an oath to Sgt. Philip Lerza on Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019.
Tom Davidson | Tribune-Review
Dominica Lerza hugs her father, newly-minted Pittsburgh police Sgt. Philip Lerza on Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019. as Lerza’s wife Jaime looks on.

The newest Pittsburgh police sergeant proved his ability as a leader on Jan. 28, 2014, when his partner, the police K-9 Rocco, was killed in the line of duty.

Mayor Bill Peduto swore in Sgt. Philip Lerza on Tuesday.

“The one thing I will always remember is your compassion,”Peduto told Lerza. “That’s the type of person I really am honored to promote.”

Peduto called on Lerza to show the same compassion he showed as he dealt with Rocco’s death as he now leads other police officers in Zone 5, which covers the East End of the city. Lerza is a 19-year veteran of the force and has spent the last decade as a K-9 handler.

Lerza has the ability to empathize with the people police deal with, many of whom are going through tough times, and to see them as people, Peduto said.

Police Chief Scott Schubert and Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich made similar comments about Lerza. They congratulated Lerza and thanked his wife, Jaime, and two daughters, Dominica, 16, and Mara, 12, for sharing Lerza with the city and supporting him.

Promoting Lerza made Schubert proud, the chief said. Schubert called Lerza an awesome guy and a professional police officer.

“You couldn’t ask for a better person,” Schubert said. “Thank you for taking this step.”

The department’s sergeants and lieutenants are vital members of the department because they control day-to-day operations and make immediate decisions that impact the force, Hissrich said.

“They make the difference,” Hissrich said.

Lerza’s promotion was the first of three ceremonies the public safety department held to honor its members Tuesday. Four new emergency medical technicians and three new paramedics were sworn in Tuesday. The new EMTs are Sarah Geyer, John O’Rourke, Nathan Orr and Arley Stoker. The new paramedics are Matthew Fisher, Richard Fredell and Nathanial Roper.

“I’d also like to thank everyone that day in and day out saves lives and sometimes puts their own lives on the line,” Hissrich said at the ceremony in the mayor’s conference room. “Welcome, congratulations and best of luck.”

The city also honored police marking service milestones at Community College of Allegheny County’s auditorium.

Tom Davidson is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tom at 724-226-4715, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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