Chief McLay addresses no-confidence vote, community relations

By Andrew O'Brien / Staff Writer

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The day after more than half of his officers voted they have no confidence in his leadership, Pittsburgh Police Cameron McLay admitted that it hurt.

On his two year anniversary with the department, McLay, speaking at a town hall meeting in Hazelwood Thursday evening, said that he misspoke when he called the informal no confidence vote “background noise.”

“[When I called it] background noise, I was referring to the media coverage,” McLay said. “The personal part of it feels like a body punch. You can keep going, but it hurts.”

McLay said that he takes the implications of the vote — in which more than half of the officers said they aren’t confident in McLay’s leadership — and his relationship with his officers seriously.

At one of a series of town hall meetings at the Pittsburgh Firefighters #1 Union Hall, seven uniformed police ––  including McLay ––  lined the walls around the Pittsburghers who came to provide feedback and share concerns with the police department. According to the Pittsburgh Police, 40 to 50 citizens attended the meeting.

McLay said the results of the vote were nothing out of the ordinary for a police chief of a major city, especially early on in the term of the first police chief brought in from the outside in 157 years.

“The dynamics between the police and the community are the same as [between] the police chief and my community [of officers]” McLay said. “It takes time and it takes commitment and it takes a lot of effort on both sides.”

After an introduction from Chief McLay, Zone 4 Commander Daniel Herrmann led a question and answer session, beginning with several anonymous questions which were submitted ahead of time.

After the questions about the vote, Herrmann opened the floor for the audience to ask questions. Citizens in attendance asked questions on topics such as unsatisfactory experiences with 911 operators, persistent traffic violations in Oakland ––  especially drivers running stop signs on Robinson Street ––  and the need for better relations between civilians and police.

Saundra Mckamey, a Hazelwood resident and executive director of P.O.O.R.L.A.W., a nonprofit organization dedicated to fostering positive change in the Hazelwood community, spoke out against police who abuse their authority.

“One or two of the police that come down here, they come hostile,” Mckamey said. “You’d be able to accomplish more if you all would build a better rapport with the community.”

Herrmann responded positively to the audience’s questions, including Mckamey’s.

“I agree completely, and thank you for saying that,” Herrmann said. “That’s what we’re working on here at this meeting.”

After the session ended, Mckamey voiced concerns about racially-biased attitudes of some of the police officers toward Hazelwood residents, though she said the problem was with a small minority of police.

“The African-American males are targeted the most,” Mckamey said. “They can be stopped for no reason just walking down the street, harassed, asked for IDs. It’s not right.”

After the event, McLay said the first step to solving that problem and all other conflicts between police and civilians is keeping lines of communication open and encouraging mutual understanding.

“What police need to do is understand crime issues from the perspectives of those living in our neighborhoods,” said McLay. “It’s a huge opportunity to build trust and relationships with the community.”

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