After almost a year as chief of the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, Cameron McLay told the New Pittsburgh Courier editorial board things are moving in the right direction on a number of fronts, but much remains to be done.
However, he said, the community, rank and file officers, federal, state and county law enforcement agencies, universities and local clergy are all contributing to making the bureau better, which is making his job a lot easier.
“When I got here, no one liked what we had; not the cops, not the community, not the kids, and not even the drug dealers—who aren’t living large either,” he said. “So I saw opportunity to create a model of 21st century policing, and that’s what we’re working to do.”
Part of that, he told the Courier, is being realized in data collection and analysis, which he hopes will soon give officers in the zone stations and on the street real-time intelligence on where crime is occurring so resources can be more productively allocated.
The first realization of that, he had demonstrated a day earlier with data on homicides, shootings, and reports of shots fired through the first six months of the year.
“It’s great to have days like yesterday because it shows how far we’ve come. Leadership in the bureau had collapsed. There was no transparency, and no attention being paid to external feedback from the community,” he said. “And that feedback is vital if our role is to reduce crime, fear and disorder.”
McLay said part of the bureau’s refocusing on community policing involves a retooling of techniques first presented by Prof. David Kennedy as part of the never-realized Pittsburgh Initiative to Reduce Crime.
“Who is driving the violent crime in the community? It’s really just a handful of people and we know who they are,” he said. “So we go talk to them directly, with their families, and tell them if crime goes down—we’ll leave them alone. If it goes up, we’ll come down hard on them and their associates.”
McLay also reiterated that staffing, including getting more Black officers into the bureau, is an ongoing problem. He said his best tool, currently, for increasing racial diversity in the bureau is to “flood the in-box” with Black candidates. That requires more directed recruiting at Historically Black Colleges and Universities and in the military. He said he has already had discussions with the city’s personnel and civil service offices to have them do that.
Another part of addressing that issue is continued community and school outreach and community involvement by officers aimed at selling the bureau as a viable career option for Black youth. He is also working on changing the outmoded civil service model to allow for more flexibility in hiring.
“Instead of hiring the top 100 candidates from the top down, in order, I want to be able to pick any from that top group. That way I can hire for specific needs—data analysis, communications skills, or diversity,” he said.
“(Fraternal Order of Police president) Howard McQuillan thinks that’s a sure way to get sued. But, hey, we’re already being sued and we’re losing. So let’s try to do the right thing before a judge tells us what to do.”
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