Mayor Bill Peduto took his time choosing a new police chief, but Pittsburghers now have reason to hope that community input and the work of the search committee have been worth the wait. Cameron McLay, a respected veteran of the Madison, Wisconsin, police department, promises a new beginning.
That an outsider was announced Tuesday as police chief will be faulted by some on parochial grounds and indeed the city has officers with strong credentials — four of them were among the 10 final candidates. But this moment called for a new face and a fresh perspective. A new beginning is not just a hope, but an imperative. Pittsburgh police urgently need strong leadership.
It is difficult to suggest otherwise given the context. Former Chief Nate Harper was involved in criminal behavior, pleading guilty to failing to file tax returns and diverting public funds to unauthorized credit union accounts. The city has had to settle several cases this year involving claims of police misconduct, followed by judgments with six-figure damage awards. The beating of Jordan Miles by police continues to rankle, as does the fact that the Pittsburgh Initiative to Reduce Crime was thwarted by a lack of police cooperation.
This litany of complaints can be reduced to a single observation: Though many of its officers do a good job, the bureau has its troubles and the trust of the community it serves has been breached. That is where Mr. McLay, 56, can help.
He comes highly recommended from Madison, where he served 35 years, rising to the rank of captain. He stresses building bridges to the community and he even has a family connection. His mother and grandparents are from the area and as a child he lived in Mt. Lebanon for three years. To be sure, there are cautions. He has not been a chief before, and Madison is different in some respects from Pittsburgh.
But he should be confirmed by city council. If his performance matches his reputation, a new era of policing in Pittsburgh may very well begin.