When Pittsburgh police chief Cameron McLay informed Mayor Bill Peduto that he was resigning, Peduto's first goal was to try and talk him out of it.
“At the beginning, I basically tried to diffuse it in a situation where you would say, ‘OK, where is it that you think things would be better?’” Peduto said.
But McLay said he realized tensions among the police bureau weren’t going to get better. The police union voted in September that it had no confidence in him after a series of bitter disagreements on a variety of issues, including forced overtime.
Some called the chief a reformer, but clearly many of the rank-and-file officers in the police department chafed at some of McLay’s reforms. As far back as August, McLay initiated conversations about his departure.
“He said, 'There is a wrecking ball chief,’” said Peduto. “It’s a model of reform that comes in when you need to go in and basically serve like a wrecking ball. But there comes a tipping point when the rank and file won’t follow the directive that is being done. And when that tipping point happens, then it’s time to consider other options.”
Despite Peduto’s best efforts to get McLay to reconsider, his mind was made up.
"It was his instinct, that said he could feel it,” Peduto said. “And that he’s become successful in life by trusting his instinct.”
Peduto said the controversy surrounding McLay after he delivered a speech at the Democratic National Convention while in uniform — which the Citizen Police Review Board later determined had broken local rules — had less to do with McLay’s resignation than some might think.
“You’d have to understand Cam McLay in order to understand that it was very, very minimal, if anything,” Peduto said. “He still insists, and I still insist as well, that there was no breaking of any law. There were no unethical actions taken. And his response has been that the only thing he would have done differently is not wear the uniform, not because it broke the law or because it wasn’t ethical, but because people were more concerned about his wardrobe than the words he was saying, which the nation needed to hear.”
Meanwhile, leaders of Pittsburgh’s African-American community, who strongly supported the progressive policies McLay worked to put into place, including community policing initiatives to create more compassion among officers, were shocked and saddened to hear of his leaving.
"The biggest concern I had with this was how would the black community respond,” Peduto said. “I think if there was anything Cam did to a standard that was national in scope, it was that within two years he turned a lot mistrust into partnerships.”