Criticism resurfaces for acting police chief in Pittsburgh
By Margaret Harding
Published: Saturday, March 9, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Regina McDonald's appointment to at least temporarily lead the scandal-ridden Pittsburgh police bureau surprised many officers.
Former supervisors insist she's up to the challenge, though.
“When she has something to say, she'll say it,” said Elizabeth Township police Chief Robert W. McNeilly Jr., an 30-year veteran of Pittsburgh police who led the city department from 1996 to 2006. “She listens a lot, which is good for a manager. She can be forceful when she needs to.”
McDonald, 63, of Sheraden shuns the limelight, even as a federal investigation of police spending in administrative offices she once supervised instensifies the glare.
During her first full day as acting chief on Feb. 21, she opted to conduct a series of one-on-one interviews with reporters rather than be “bombarded” with questions, as she put it. She declined an interview for this story.
She began making headlines almost immediately, suspending at least three employees connected to ousted Chief Nate Harper and returning the Personnel and Finance Office — one of those targeted by FBI searches — to supervision by the administrative branch. She began reviewing staff positions that reported directly to Harper and last week got rid of a small, controversial unit Harper created and staffed with officers close to him.
“It's not good business practice for the chief of police to be supervising more people than what they normally would,” McNeilly said, echoing McDonald's explanation.
Mayor Luke Ravenstahl named McDonald acting chief when he forced Harper out because of the federal investigation. How long she will serve in the role remains unclear. When asked why Deputy Chief Paul Donaldson didn't take over for Harper, the mayor noted the second-in-command was going on vacation. Donaldson has since returned.
Ravenstahl said he would look outside the department for a replacement.
Old criticisms of McDonald among rank and file resurfaced when she made chief. She never made an arrest, she dates a felon and former Mayor Tom Murphy helped her rise through the ranks, they said.
“They accused me of that when I was promoted to commander and then assistant chief,” McDonald said in an earlier interview. “One rumor was my dad was good friends with him. My dad didn't even know him. The other was that I'm related to him, but I'm not.”
She said she made numerous arrests after joining the force in 1977 and working a patrol wagon in Hazelwood.
“I received commendations when they weren't even giving commendations because of the arrests,” McDonald said. “Everybody knew when I was working because they knew I was patrolling. I wasn't hiding anywhere.”
Officers privately questioned McDonald's 28-year romantic relationship with Max Homer, 77, of Robinson, who was convicted of extortion and false declaration to a grand jury in 1975. McDonald said she met Homer, a former state representative, later, when he was working in the city school district.
“He was able to get a job with Pittsburgh Public Schools, so why would I be concerned with whether or not he's a person to be involved with?” McDonald said.
McDonald was a teacher with a master's degree in education when she became a cop. She got a master's in administration of justice from the University of Pittsburgh in 1984.
Most of her career reflects an emphasis on education. She implemented the anti-drug DARE program in Pittsburgh Public Schools and oversaw the youth and community programs. McNeilly put her in charge of the training academy in 1998.
“I saw someone with two masters, and I thought she'd be perfect for the training academy,” McNeilly said. “She was educated, organized. She handled the job very well.”
He later put McDonald in charge of the narcotics and vice unit while rotating commanders, and promoted her to assistant chief of investigations.
“As a supervisor, she did a good job I thought in both narcotics and as assistant chief,” said Allegheny County Sheriff William P. Mullen, who oversaw McDonald as assistant chief and then as deputy chief. “There's always complaints and grumbling, but for the most part, what she did was positive.”
Since April 2006, McDonald headed the administration branch.
When Chief Dominic J. Costa retired in 2006, McDonald was one of five people interviewed for his position. She said this time she's not thinking about extending her time in the chief's office.
“I'm not looking at that right now,” McDonald said. “There's enough.”
Mullen said he thought McDonald was capable of the job. He and McNeilly cautioned against only looking outside the department for a new leader.
“If you bring someone in from the outside, he better have intentions of staying,” Mullen said, “because this, in my opinion, it's going to take years to straighten out.”
Margaret Harding is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8519 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
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.
- Newsmaker: Jack Goodrich
- Trib’s Hiel honored for reporting on Coptic Christians
- Western Psychiatric clinic rampage victim’s parents seek answers, lawyer says
- Donor name to be stripped from Penn Hills library
- Pittsburgh taxis plan own smartphone app to battle newcomers Lyft and Uber
- Suspect in East Liberty slayings may be part of murder-for-hire case
- Carnegie Library board adds three members