ShareThis Page

Pittsburgh police union members overwhelmingly vote 'no confidence' in Chief McLay

Megan Guza
| Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2016, 10:15 p.m.

The union representing Pittsburgh police officers on Wednesday quietly took a planned confidence/no confidence vote in Chief Cameron McLay a day earlier than initially advertised, returning a resounding vote of “no confidence.”

Of the 459 union members who voted, 421 indicated they have no confidence in McLay's ability to lead the bureau, according to Fraternal Order of Police Fort Pitt Lodge No. 1 President Robert Swartzwelder.

Sixteen voted that they do have confidence in the chief, and 22 abstained.

“This very clearly demonstrates that rank-and-file officers ... do not have confidence in the chief's ability to lead them and that he does not have their best interests at heart,” Swartzwelder said.

The vote had been scheduled for Thursday at the FOP's regularly scheduled meeting. Union officials decided to include it with a sidebar vote scheduled for Wednesday relating to the police contract.

“You're going to get better turnout with a contract-related vote than at a regular meeting,” Swartzwelder said.

The vote followed an unofficial online survey in which union members voted 277-14 toward “no confidence.”

Public Safety spokeswoman Sonya Toler said on Wednesday that McLay stands by his comments made following that survey.

At the time, McLay said: “Any time a police chief attempts significant changes to an organization's approach to policing, cultural resistance and pushback are normal and inevitable. I fully expected such resistance when I came here. Facing confidence votes is simply one of the realities faced by major city police chiefs today.”

He continued, “I have great confidence in the hard-working officers who serve this community well every single day, and they will always be the focus of my efforts.”

In 1997, the union voted no confidence in then-Chief Robert McNeilly after voters approved a referendum creating the Citizen Police Review Board, which holds independent hearings on allegations of police misconduct. McNeilly continued as chief for nearly nine more years.

McLay ruffled feathers within months of his arrival when an online photo was circulated showing him in uniform at the city's 2014 First Night celebration, holding a sign that read: “I resolve to challenge racism at work. #EndWhiteSilence”

This spring, the union and chief butted heads in the aftermath of the May 1 Pittsburgh Marathon, when only about 30 officers volunteered to fill 110 spots to provide event security and some off-duty officers were forced to work, Swartzwelder said at the time.

The same issue arose two weeks later in advance of the Beyonce concert at Heinz Field.

Swartzwelder filed unfair labor complaints in both instances.

Other issues have ranged from ongoing unhappiness over a long-standing rule that requires officers to live in the city to a rally in mid-April for GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump where officers were not permitted to wear riot gear. Several officers complained of being pepper-sprayed during the rally, and four received minor injuries.

Most recently, Swartzwelder blasted McLay for his appearance at last month's Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, where McLay appeared in uniform and spoke briefly about current issues in policing.

McLay asked the Office of Municipal Investigations and Citizens Police Review Board to investigate the appearance. The OMI concluded McLay's appearance was apolitical, and therefore did not violate city code. The CPRB, however, concluded the chief did violate policy, though Peduto, who has the final ruling, said McLay will face no discipline.

Any time a police chief attempts significant changes to an organization's approach to policing, cultural resistance and pushback are normal and inevitable. I fully expected such resistance when I came here. Facing confidence votes is simply one of the realities faced by major city police chiefs today

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.