Fraternal Order of Police survey indicates “no confidence” in Pittsburgh police chief Cameron McLay


Julia Rendleman

The Fraternal Order of Police will vote on its confidence in Police Chief Cameron McLay on Thursday. TNS.

The Pittsburgh police union released results from a survey it conducted on Monday, showing that the majority of officers in the union would make a vote of “no confidence” in Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay.

Shortly after the survey results came out, McLay responded in a Pittsburgh Department of Public Safety press release Monday night. He brushed off the union’s survey as “normal and inevitable.”

The Pittsburgh Fraternal Order of Police’s — the union’s formal name — poll, which has been up online for three weeks and ended Monday at 6 p.m., allowed members — all of whom are Pittsburgh police officers —  to indicate whether they had confidence in McLay.

Overall, 40 percent of FOP members voted, and the majority of respondents said they did not have confidence in the police chief, according to FOP president Robert Swartzwelder. The Pittsburgh branch of the FOP represents all of the approximately 850 officers in Pittsburgh’s police force — less than half voted.

Swartzwelder said 277 members voted for no confidence while 14 participants voted for confidence. The survey came after a request for a vote of no confidence at a meeting from several members, but the FOP chose to do a survey first so more officers could participate.

McLay, who has received pushback from the Pittsburgh FOP for the majority of his tenure, said this kind of reaction is typical when “a police chief attempts significant changes to an organization’s approach to policing.”

McLay has made it his platform to address police brutality publicly and within his station. Since he became Pittsburgh’s Chief of Police in Sept. 2014, McLay and officers have had repeated scuffles, sometimes relating to his mission.

At the tail end of 2014, McLay posed with a sign that read “I resolve to challenge racism at work #EndWhiteSilence,” which disgruntled many union members. In April, police officers said the department forced them to work secondary employment shifts for the Pittsburgh Marathon, which they said was illegal. McLay apologized to the officers, saying “far too many [police officers] were required to work this event with inadequate notice.”

A similar situation occurred at a Beyonce concert in May when several officers said they wouldn’t work the event because events such as concerts are contractually voluntary for officers.

McLay was in the national spotlight when he spoke at the Democratic National Convention, something that the FOP said was against municipal code because an officer is not supposed to endorse or campaign for a political candidate or party.

When the FOP began discussing the possibility of a no-confidence vote at the end of August, McLay said the efforts were “background noise” that he expected to occur, according to the Associated Press.

According to a “Predicting and Surviving a No-Confidence Vote” best practices guide from the International Association of Chiefs of Police, a no-confidence vote in relation to law enforcement means the police union or department is dissatisfied with the police chief’s performance.  A no-confidence vote can potentially lead to a chief’s removal from office or influence employment contracts, wages and policy-making.

The unofficial survey was meant to “inform the membership” and open the possibility of taking official action at an FOP meeting Thursday with a vote, according to Swartzwelder.

If a vote were to occur, the members would still be able to decide what type of action they would want to take from there, Swartzwelder said.

“[A member who makes the motion] may say, ‘hey, thank you, we understand,’ or they may say, ‘hey, we would like to put this out publicly,” Swartzwelder said.

McLay said in the statement that he was expecting hurdles like this from the union.

“Facing confidence votes is simply one of the realities faced by major city police chiefs today,” McLay said in the release. “I am focusing on keeping the Police Bureau moving in the same positive direction we have been heading.”

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