Ex-Wisconsin police captain Cameron McLay named new Pittsburgh police chief

For months, Mayor Bill Peduto and Public Safety director Stephen Bucar have said Pittsburgh’s next police chief must walk a fine line between two constituencies: communities that have seen a deteriorating relationship with the department, and the bureau’s officers, who saw their last chief go to federal prison.

They believe they have the man for the job in Cameron McLay, a leadership development consultant for the International Association of Chiefs of Police and longtime Madison, Wis., police officer, who was named the city's new chief Tuesday, pending city council approval.

Mr. Peduto and Mr. Bucar announced the hiring of the 56-year-old former police captain at a news conference, saying he distinguished himself during the interview process as the best choice to bridge the divide spawned by accusations of officer misconduct and civil rights violations and the scandal-marred tenure of former Chief Nate Harper.

Mr. Bucar called Mr. McLay, who has 35 years of police experience and retired from Madison this year, “a man of discipline” who is “worthy of earning the respect of the rank-and-file and the community.”

Mr. Peduto said Mr. McLay “will have his work to do.”

“He must make the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police a national model of professionalism,” the mayor said. “I believe he is up to the task to lead us in a new era.”

Mr. McLay's selection marks the end of a months-long hiring process that included meetings with residents and police officers, to solicit criteria used to sort through the applicants, and a mayoral selection committee. The community wanted more diversity on the mostly white force, better relationships and more respectful treatment of residents, more visibility and foot patrols and more accountability for cops who stray, among others. Rank-and-file officers wanted an experienced cop who would implement disciplinary action in a fair and consistent manner, institute better training, reorganize the command staff and operate free of political pressure.

“Most of our officers are very much OK,” said Esther Bush, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh. “A few of our officers have gotten out of line and get out of line. We have to put a stop to that and that has to come from the top.”

Mr. McLay, who was one of 10 finalists, including four internal candidates and six from elsewhere, has all the necessary attributes, said Mr. Bucar, a former Pennsylvania state trooper and FBI special agent who added that Mr. McLay was “very compelling” in interviews.


“When you have a face-to-face interview with people, you get a sense of whether or not they know what they're talking about,” he said, adding that Mr. McLay's efforts to institute a community-policing model in Madison also helped set him apart.

The chief's salary is $109,160, and Mr. McLay is expected to begin work Sept. 15. He may be the first chief hired from outside the Pittsburgh police bureau’s ranks, according to Mr. Peduto, although his staff could not confirm that Tuesday.

Mr. McLay has family connections to the Pittsburgh area — his mother and grandparents were from Squirrel Hill and Wilkinsburg — and he spent some time here as a child, living in Mt. Lebanon for three years while his father worked for Alcoa.

A married father of three adult children, one of whom is a Madison police officer, Mr. McLay was not available for interviews Tuesday, according to the mayor’s office.

“I intend to be very visible, very engaged and very transparent. Over the next few days, however, my primary focus must be on my family as we prepare for our move and on familiarizing myself with local issues so as to be able to speak intelligently to those issues,” he said in a statement supplied by the city. He added that he has “long wanted to return” to Pittsburgh.

“I am drawn by the opportunity to make a difference. I recognize a community that desperately wants a stronger connection with its police and a proud police force, rich in tradition, that wants to be valued and respected for their service and sacrifices,” he said in the news release. “It is my job to close that gap. We, the police, are nothing but an extension of the communities we serve. Our role is to reduce crime, fear and disorder in all of those communities. To do so, we must forge strong bonds with those we serve. It is my responsibility to make that happen, and it will.”

The Pittsburgh police bureau has been led by an acting police chief, Regina McDonald, since February 2013, when Harper was asked to resign amid a federal investigation. Harper is currently serving a federal prison sentence after pleading guilty to failing to file income tax returns and conspiring to divert checks from the bureau into off-the-books accounts, which he tapped for his personal use.

Mr. McLay started as a a part-time cadet officer and full-time police officer for the Indiana University Police Department in 1979. He was also president of the IU Taekwondo Club and a police self-defense instructor. In Madison, he worked as a patrol officer for five years before becoming a training officer, then sergeant and lieutenant before he was promoted to captain.

Mr. Peduto hinted that, if the new chief and Mr. Bucar agree, a “door would certainly be reopened” to David Kennedy, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York whose attempts to implement an anti-violence initiative in Pittsburgh were stymied by a department Mr. Kennedy characterized as aggressively resistant to change and outside advice. In an interview Tuesday, Mr. Kennedy said he had spoken with Mr. McLay during Mr. Peduto’s police chief search and came away impressed.

“Madison is known in policing circles ... for decades as a very capable and forward-thinking department,” he said, noting that the Madison police have their own version of the Pittsburgh Initiative to Reduce Crime, which he says was hampered by a lack of Pittsburgh police cooperation. “They've been very serious about it. ... Madison’s been ahead of the curve for 30 years. ... I think he’s exactly what Pittsburgh needs.”

Howard McQuillan, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 1, did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday afternoon.


Robert Zullo: rzullo@post-gazette.com. Liz Navaratil: lnavratil@post-gazette.com. First Published September 2, 2014 10:09 AM

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