At his first public appearance before assuming his role as chief of police, Cameron McLay laid out some principles for leading a bureau that he acknowledged is widely seen as dysfunctional and suffers from deficits in morale, accountability and diversity.
"There’s a crisis in American policing right now and it’s playing out right here on the streets of Pittsburgh," McLay said at the outset, chalking up community mistrust partly to an overemphasis on arrests and citations as signs of doing good police work. "As chief, my number one priority is going to be to restore the legitimacy of the police bureau."
McLay said he would start by distributing surveys both internally and for citizens to understand how the department operates and how it's perceived as part of an effort to use data to guide his decision-making.
But one of the more concrete promises McLay made was to re-institute the Pittsburgh Initiative to Reduce Crime (PIRC), a homicide prevention program that has languished since 2010.
"It’s my intention that we are going re-institute and re-implement PIRC because the shootings and the violence in our neighborhoods absolutely has to stop," McLay said.
In a nutshell, the program works by trying to engage gangs and other groups at "call-in" sessions — but one of its designers, John Jay College of Criminal Justice professor David Kennedy, said police leaders in Pittsburgh never gave it a chance.
Last week, Kennedy, who has spoken with McLay, told City Paper the program is "absolutely" worth salvaging. "[PIRC] is not perfect but it’s better than anything else out there," Kennedy said.
McLay mostly said that details on how he would reshape the bureau would have to wait until he's had a chance to study how it currently operates.
He starts work Monday.