Chief McLay Requests Investigation Into His DNC Appearance

Aug 1, 2016

Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay speaking at the Democratic National Convention on Tuesday, July 26, 2016.
Credit Democratic National Convention / Screengrab

Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay on Monday requested a review of his appearance at the Democratic National Convention. Two entities will investigate to determine if McLay’s appearance violated any city code.

McLay appeared in Philadelphia at the convention last week to speak about police-community relations.

But he came under fire by Robert Swartzwelder, president of the police union, who said uniformed members of law enforcement are prohibited from endorsing or giving the appearance of endorsing any political campaigns.

In a press release, McLay said, "While I interpret the code differently, I strongly believe I must be accountable to all relevant laws and City policies."

The code in question is Municipal Code 195.02, which states, "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."

Elizabeth Pittinger, executive director of the Citizen Police Review Board, said she believes this is the first time any officer has requested a review of their own actions, and questions of political involvement have rarely been investigated in the past 10 years.

She said McLay’s DNC appearance resulted in one anonymous call and some general comments, but no formal complaints. She has already opened an inquiry however, because of public interest and the union’s allegations.

She said the Review Board will spend several weeks reviewing communications between the DNC and McLay, and hearing his testimony.

“Who provided the transportation, who provided the accommodation, who invited him, who assisted him in his ability to present his comments at the convention,” Pittinger said. “It was a partisan venue, I think that’s where it gets messy. And he appeared in uniform and that makes it messy.”

But she said, the violation is not clear.

“I don’t believe he was actively campaigning or endorsing a particular candidate," Pittinger said. "Nor was he endorsing a particular plank in the democratic platform. He was not actively promoting anything other than positive respective relationship between the community and the police.”

The Review Board’s report will be delivered to Mayor Bill Peduto in several weeks. McLay said Peduto and Pittsburgh Director of Public Safety Wendell Hissrich both supported his appearance at the convention.

The Office of Municipal investigations will also look into McLay's DNC appearance.