In October 2011, after two shootings occurred in the Northside of Madison, Wis., locals say then police Capt. Cameron McLay developed a new approach to policing in the community. He began assigning officers to work in specific areas where they'd be responsible for getting to know the residents, not just by patrolling the neighborhood, but by attending community meetings and working with local nonprofits.
"[McLay] was really responsive when an incident happened; he was always available," says Karen Bassler, executive director of Madison's North Side Planning Council, a community development organization. "He totally encouraged that in all of his officers. It went a long way to reducing the crime rates, but also to fostering relations between community and the police force."
McLay's history may bode well for the city of Pittsburgh where he was recently hired as the new police chief. During a series of public forums intended to provide input on the selection process, residents cited experience in community policing as a primary concern.
But the community in Madison, Wis. is somewhat different from Pittsburgh. According to the 2010 census, Madison's African-American population is 7.3 percent, compared to 26 percent in Pittsburgh, where relations between police and black residents have often been contentious. Pittsburgh also has higher poverty rates than McLay's former home: 22 percent of the Steel City's population lives below the poverty line, compared to 18 percent in Madison.
Still, as a 35-year law enforcement veteran, McLay's resume includes 24 years on the SWAT team and expertise in use of force. During his time in Madison he also helped identify inconsistent and ineffective leadership methods within the department.
"[McLay] took our relationship with the police to the next level," says Cheryl Wittke, executive director of Safe Communities, an injury-prevention coalition. Wittke says she began working with McLay when he oversaw traffic in Madison. "He’s really focused on community policing and connecting community groups with the police department."
McLay will begin working in Pittsburgh on September 15.