Cameron McClay

Cameron McClay speaks about community-police relations at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia this July. (Screenshot)

PITTSBURGH, PA – The City of Pittsburgh Office of Municipal Investigations has concluded that Pittsburgh Bureau of Police Chief Cameron McLay did not violate City Code or internal police policies when he spoke about community-police relations at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia this July.

Investigators conducted interviews, reviewed emails and text messages, and studied the City Code and the Pittsburgh Police Bureau Manual of Procedural Orders in making their ruling. Their final report – delivered late last week to Mayor William Peduto and Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich – concluded that allegations Chief McLay violated prohibitions against campaigning while in uniform to be officially “unfounded.”

“From the very beginning Chief McLay’s appearance to discuss Pittsburgh’s community policing initiatives before a television audience of millions of people was conditioned on being apolitical and not mentioning any candidate,” Mayor Peduto said. “OMI conducted a completely independent investigation of the matter, and now that they have ruled the allegations against the Chief to be unfounded, he will face no discipline.”

Chief McLay and anonymous complainants requested that OMI conduct the investigation after the president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #1 alleged the Chief violated language in the City Code stating “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.”

The internal Bureau Manual of Procedural Orders also forbid police from wearing their uniform while “championing the cause of or campaigning for any political party or candidate.”

To avoid confusion in the future regarding these matters the Mayor has asked Public Safety Director Hissrich to consider regulations to clarify adherence to the rules.

OMI investigators interviewed Chief McLay, Mayor William Peduto’s Chief of Staff Kevin Acklin and a staffer for the state Democratic Party who invited the Chief to speak at the convention. They also reviewed written communications regarding the speech. The investigation found that:

  • Mayor Peduto, Acklin and McLay all insisted from the beginning that the Chief’s remarks only be on community policing and not be political in any form.
  • Campaign staffers for Democratic candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton repeatedly asked McLay to mention Clinton in his remarks, to which McLay responded by telling them he would be forced to withdraw from speaking. At one point McLay refused to enter a vehicle taking him to the convention floor until the issue was resolved. Hours before the speech McLay texted Mayor Peduto and Acklin that he may have to withdraw from speaking, and the Mayor and Acklin responded that they understood.
  • Campaign speech writers drafted a speech for McLay mentioning the candidate which the Chief refused to deliver, and instead insisted on drafting his own remarks, focusing on the nationally-recognized work Pittsburgh is doing on community-police relations.
  • McLay notified assistant chiefs at a meeting before the convention that he was speaking, and that his objective was non-political and to “aim the ball right down the middle” on the need for communities and police to come together.
  • McLay wore his uniform in his role of representing Pittsburgh Police to the nation.
  • City employees – in the police bureau and other departments – often have their travel expenses covered by event sponsors, just as the Democratic National Committee paid for McLay’s travel to Philadelphia.

To address concerns about conflicts of interest in internal investigations, upon taking office in 2014 Mayor Peduto moved OMI out from the jurisdiction of the Department of Public Safety and placed it under the purview of the Law Department. He named former federal prosecutor Lourdes Sanchez-Ridge to lead the Law Department, and named Deborah Walker – a former University of Pittsburgh Police officer and Pittsburgh Citizen Police Review Board board chair – to head OMI.

A draft opinion on the McLay allegations circulated by the CPRB’s executive director last month stated that, in her opinion, McLay’s appearance alone at the Democratic National Convention was political and therefore violated the Code’s anti-campaigning prohibitions.

The investigation performed by Walker and a professional OMI investigator found Chief McLay did not engage in campaigning and did not violate the Code. In the final report dated August 25, 2016, they concluded:

“Without a doubt, Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay delivered a televised, public speech at the Democratic National Convention, while in uniform and at the expense of the DNC Committee. . . The relevant Bureau policy prohibits the wearing of a police uniform when ‘championing the cause of or campaigning for any political party or candidate.’ Chief McLay was adamant to the host Committee and their agents that not only could he not campaign for any candidate but that he would not even mention any candidate by name. When under pressure, Chief McLay threatened to withdraw from the event. Chief McLay’s statement regarding these events is reasonable and articulate. There is also a time stamped text message to evidence his intention to withdraw if necessary. 

Based on the facts and circumstances outlined above, it is the finding of this office that Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay did not violate any provision of the Manual of Procedural Orders and therefore did not violate the related provision of the City Code. Therefore, this office shall close this investigation as UNFOUNDED.” 

OMI findings on City personnel matters are released only in instances of unusual public interest. A full copy of the report on this matter is available here.

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