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