Obituary: Walter J. "Corky" Alberts / Instrumental in transforming Allegheny County police force
Sept. 22, 1930 - Feb. 13, 2014
February 15, 2014 10:51 PM
Walter J. "Corky" Alberts
By Michael A. Fuoco / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Walter J. "Corky" Alberts joined the Allegheny County Police Department in 1959 when it essentially was a security force patrolling North and South parks and Pittsburgh International Airport.
That all changed in 1976 when Mr. Alberts, who had risen through the ranks to assistant superintendent, worked with Superintendent Robert G. Kroner to nearly double the 110-man force, transforming it into a highly trained professional department of officers and detectives.
The creation of the force we now know fulfilled the vision of county commissioners Tom Foerster and Leonard C. Staisey, who wanted a professional department to provide investigative expertise and assistance to local municipalities.
Mr. Alberts of Mount Washington, who retired from the force in 1992, died Thursday in the Grand Residence of Upper St. Clair. He was 83.
Current county police Assistant Superintendent James Morton, who joined the force in 1973, said Mr. Kroner, who died in 2005, and Mr. Alberts were the "founding fathers" of the current county police department and "two of the best bosses I've ever worked for."
When the investigations branch was formed, Mr. Morton, at the time a patrolman at the airport, was among the group to be chosen as detectives for the fledgling unit. He now is the lone remaining person on the job from that initial group of investigators.
"It was a learning process and he was part of that. We had no investigators and all of a sudden we had to jump into investigations. Corky was very supportive.
"He was very personable, you could talk to him. There are some bosses you can't communicate with. He was very open about being [approachable]. I really liked him as a boss and as a person. I can't say enough about Corky."
Among Mr. Alberts many friends was former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Stephen Zappala Sr. The two men met when Mr. Alberts was a patrolman and Mr. Zappala was working for Mr. Staisey.
"Corky was a solid, personable person, a good friend who had great, great depth as far as family."
Mr. Zappala said Mr. Alberts never forgot his humble origins growing up in the Hill District. Because of that, Mr. Zappala said, he had a common touch, and that's what made him effective both as a policeman and as a man.
"Whether he was dealing with the highfalutin' or the newspaper carrier, he treated everyone equally. He had common sense and the ability to talk to people."
Moreover, Mr. Zappala said he admired Mr. Alberts for his charity. He formed a group called "The Four Horsemen," which raised more than $750,000 for a variety of causes such as Children's Hospital, Special Olympics and research for breast cancer, which claimed the life of his daughter, Leslie Lampl, in 2000.
Few people knew Mr. Alberts' first name -- he was nicknamed "Corky" by his father who said he resembled one of the characters in the "Gasoline Alley" comic strip.
He attended Central Catholic High School where he was a star athlete. Despite having several athletic scholarships for college, he enlisted in the Army to serve during the Korean War. Stationed in Europe, he was an all-star football player and played in the Armed Forces Spaghetti Bowl in Italy.
As a county police officer, he held every position including mounted police officer, motorcycle officer, hostage negotiator and dignitary escort. He was proud to say he never had to pull his weapon as a police officer.
Mr. Alberts, who served as president of the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police, played a major role in procuring improved wage and benefit standards for police officers throughout Pennsylvania. In particular, he was the primary lobbyist for the creation of a statewide pension program.
Shortly after his retirement from the Allegheny County Police Department, he served for more than a decade as an aide to the late state Supreme Court Justice Ralph Cappy.
Survivors include his wife of 63 years, Dolores "Dolly" Alberts; a son, Michael G. Alberts of Mt. Lebanon; and five grandsons.
Friends will be received at William Slater II Funeral Service in Scott from 1 to 3 and 6 to 8 p.m. today. A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated Monday at 10 a.m. in the Church of Epiphany, 1018 Centre Ave., Uptown, where attendees are asked to meet.