When Sam Pitassi was attending Proviso East High School in Maywood, it was a place of racial unrest and discord. The situation got so bad at one point that school administrators asked police officers from Melrose Park and other west suburban towns to come and patrol the halls.
“I admired their commitment and resolve in coming in and accomplishing the task of keeping us safe,” Pitassi recalls. “Plus, my uncle and godfather (Nick Perrino) was a police officer in Chicago in the 1960s, and he inspired me to pursue law enforcement as a career.”
The son of Peter and Christine (nee Millonzi) Pitassi, Pitassi moved to Melrose Park with his family from the Grand Avenue Italian enclave in Chicago when he was 4. After high school, he earned an associate’s degree in police science at Triton College in 1972 and a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Lewis University in 1974. He joined the Melrose Park Police Department that same year; married Rosa Ruotolo, a native of Naples, Italy, in 1985; and steadily rose through the ranks until he was appointed chief in 2007.
Having worked the beat himself, he finds it easy to related to the younger officers under his command. “When they’re working on holidays and dealing with changing shifts in a job that tends to keep them away from their families, I’ve been there,” he says. “I enjoy being able to provide guidance to fellow officers.”
Pitassi’s prowess at his post has earned him countless honors, among them a special mayor commendation in 2001, the Man of the Year Award from the Flowers of Italy Club in 2008, and the Patriotic Employer Award from the National Committee for Employer Support in 2010.
If you’re looking to join the ranks of law enforcement, Pitassi urges you to bear in mind that what you do with your life now can seriously impact your ability to pursue your dreams. “Definitely refrain from all criminal acts if you want to be in law enforcement,” he advises. “Drugs, DUIs, domestic violence and any other criminal charge can affect your odds of becoming a cop.”
But abiding by the law is only the first step, according to Pitassi. “Education is the key to opening doors to job opportunities,” he asserts. “Nowadays education is important to obtaining any position, but it is especially important in law enforcement. Study hard and don’t take your opportunity to get a higher education for granted.”
As much as law enforcement has changed in the 40 years since he entered the force, it remains rooted in the same principals, according to Pitassi. “Everything has changed when it comes to the economy, salary and pensions,” he explains. “But at the same time, one thing that will always be the same is our mission to keep the public safe.”
Pitassi knows that retirement is on the horizon, but until that day arrives, he plans on continuing to keep the streets of Melrose Park safe for all residents and to serve as a role model to his fellow officers through his leadership and commitment to the law.