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Police Chief Responds To Criticism After Speaking At DNC

Sarah Kovash
90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay said he broke no rules by speaking at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia Tuesday night, despite backlash from the police union.

Pittsburgh Police Union President Robert Swartzwelder said McLay violated a municipal code that prevents officers from campaigning in any way.

During a press conference at Police Headquarters on the North Side Wednesday, McLay said he checked with Mayor Bill Peduto and Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich prior to speaking at the convention and only attended as a representative of law enforcement to speak on police-related issues.

“I asked with respect to messaging … I indicated that the only condition under which I would go is if I simply am speaking to the issues that are so important to this nation,” McLay said.

But Swartzwelder said any association with the DNC would be political in nature.

“The DNC’s purpose is to elect a political candidate,” Swartzwelder said. “When you go there and make remarks, for political candidacy, you are implicitly … endorsing a candidate. You can slice it up any way you want.”

McLay said he did not go to endorse any particular political candidate, but to speak to a broader audience about the importance of police-community relations.

“I do believe that police-community relations, the difficult issues of race and policing and use of force is probably one of the most pressing issues nationally,” he said.

Though McLay said he was not paid to speak at the convention, either Hillary Clinton’s campaign or the DNC paid for his flight to Philadelphia and hotel accommodations. McLay said he was unclear who specifically paid for his travel and lodging, though. He did say as per the police code of conduct, he is allowed to accept an invitation to speak and would only be in violation if he was paid.

Prior to speaking, McLay said he did not have any Pittsburgh officials review his speech, but had DNC speech writers help him pare down the length of his speech. At the convention, McLay spoke for roughly four minutes, touching on policing, racial justice and the challenges of working in law enforcement.

He said the controversial officer-involved shootings since Ferguson have created tension with communities of color, but around the country police are working to improve relationships.

”In Pittsburgh, we’re doing this important work,” he said at the DNC. “We recognize our interdependency and we’re working closely together to reduce the violence and make sure that our residents feel both safe and respected. “

Swartzwelder said it was “improper” for McLay to speak about the incidents in Louisiana and Minnesota, where police killed two black men, since he’s not involved in the investigation. Swartzwelder said the municipal code in question states that a police officer who violates it would be dismissed from the force.

“So, does that mean now, that me and any other police officer, can go to political functions in uniform?” Swartzwelder said.

Though, McLay said officers can and do attend public functions with his permission to speak about police issues.

McLay said during the press conference Wednesday that he had not talked to Swartzwelder, but had planned to do so.