Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay – 2016 DNC Speech

Police - Cameron McClay at DNC

“Our colleagues across America — our brothers and sisters in blue — are doing the hardest job in the world. At the start of every shift, they go out without knowing what dangers await. And yet, there is a crisis — especially in the eyes of too many communities, particularly communities of color — a crisis of trust in police and the criminal justice system.

Crime rates have been falling for decades, but research shows that public trust in police is eroding in too many places. Dr. Martin Luther King said, “True peace is not the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.” Our communities are arguably far safer than ever. However, absent a sense of justice, less crime in your neighborhood is a hollow victory.

The controversial officer-involved shootings since Ferguson have created great tension between police and our communities. At the same time, throughout this nation, efforts are underway to improve relationships.

In Pittsburgh, we are doing this hard, but critical work. We have open lines of communication with our community partners. In our city, we recognize our interdependency, and are working closely together to reduce violence and make sure our residents feel safe and respected.

But things are fragile. Two police shootings on two consecutive days, in Minnesota and Louisiana, left many understandably outraged. And the assassination of eight police officers in 10 days have those of us in the law enforcement community rightly feeling under assault.

All of these concerns are real. Without question, the criminal justice system has a disparate impact on communities of color, and society is asking more of our police officers than ever before. Laid at the doorstep of police are declining economic opportunities, insufficient resources for mental health, and the lack of drug treatment options.

As a police officer that has served for more than 30 years, let me say this: We can respect and support our police officers while also pushing for important reforms. We can and must do both.

There are many more police leaders like me, who are committed to improving the integrity of our systems, but we will fail unless we come together with our communities. We must each fight our natural tendency to hide inside our narrow world view, and instead seek common ground with the objective of creating an America that truly provides liberty and justice for all.”

FOP president decries police chief’s DNC speech

By Karen Kane / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette July 27, 2016

Pittsburgh police Chief Cameron McLay said he was pleased to receive an invitation to speak at the Democratic National Convention on Tuesday night because it was an opportunity to speak on a subject about which he is passionate: police and community relations.

Fraternal Order of Police president Robert Swartzwelder said Wednesday his boss committed a misstep and should face disciplinary action perhaps as severe as dismissal for what the union leader deems an obvious violation of the municipal code.

“Anyone who believes in any way, shape or form that the DNC is not a political campaign is an idiot,” he said, referring to a provision in the municipal code that prohibits campaigning by police in uniform: “No officer or employee of the Department of Police shall campaign for a candidate for any office or for a ballot issue while on duty, while wearing a uniform or while on City property. Nor may he/she identify himself/herself as an employee of the Department of Police.”

At the DNC on Tuesday, Chief McLay was introduced as the Pittsburgh police chief, and he was in uniform.

But, at a media briefing Wednesday afternoon, Chief McLay disputed that his speech constituted campaigning — though he acknowledged the content was reviewed by “professional campaign writers” and was edited to reduce its content by about half. He said he didn’t know if the campaign writers worked for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton or the Democratic Party.

The purpose in accepting the invitation to speak at the DNC, the chief said, was to talk about “what meaningful police reform should look like.” He said he also wanted to make the point that “my cops do a great job.”

If the FOP president is upset, the chief said he will discuss the issue with him.

Witold Walczak, the legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, said he had no problems with Chief McLay’s speech or his appearance at the DNC.

“He’s not endorsing a candidate. He was promoting a view of policing used in Pittsburgh and that he believes could be a model for the nation,” Mr. Walczak said.

The Democrats, he continued, invited Chief McLay because he is someone who embraces a view of policing that they support.

“As we all sit here today, we don’t know who he’s endorsing,” Mr. Walczak said.

The matter appears unlikely to gain traction with the chief’s bosses. Mayor Bill Peduto’s chief of staff, Kevin Acklin, said in a statement that there was no violation of the city code.

“We are aware of the restrictions under city code and we explicitly required that his remarks were not political as a condition of his appearance. Chief McLay was invited by the convention to tell the nation about the efforts of the Pittsburgh Police force toward building stronger community relations, and he did not campaign for any candidate. There was no mention of any candidate in his remarks, he did not express support for any candidate, and we are proud that he celebrated the efforts of our police officers on a national stage.”

Officer Swartzwelder vehemently countered the point. “The DNC is there to endorse a candidate. You’re living under a rock if you don’t see that,” he said.

He believes the chief should be disciplined, and he said he will raise the issue every time one of his union members faces disciplinary action.

“The mayor is endorsing violation of the municipal code,” he said.

In June, Allegheny County officials asked Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s campaign to stop using a photograph of the candidate with county police in a mass email distribution. The email featured photographs from his campaign trail, including an image of Mr. Trump surrounded by about a dozen local public safety workers, including several county police officers. The photo was taken during a stop by Mr. Trump at Pittsburgh International Airport.

At the time, Coleman McDonough, the department’s newly appointed superintendent, said the photo should not have appeared in the email. But he said there was no violation of policy by officers, saying the campaign was responsible.

Mr. Walczak said the situation with Mr. Trump and his use of the photograph with county officers is different.

“They were being used in a clearly partisan campaign promotion for Trump, and it was done unwittingly by the cops,” Mr. Walczak said. “He snapped that photo and used it without their permission.

“It was problematic at all levels.”

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