Pittsburgh Police Chief Shuts Down Twitter Account After Photo Controversy

PITTSBURGH, PA – Pittsburgh police Chief Cameron McLay has asked the city’s Office of Municipal Investigations to determine whether his use of social media violated any police bureau regulations.

The request follows national attention sparked by controversy over a photograph posted on Facebook that showed Chief McLay holding an anti-racism sign on New Year’s Eve.

Supporters on social media tweeted the photo with the hashtag ISupportChiefMcLay.

The city’s police union assailed the chief, claiming that the photo insinuated that officers were racist.

As a result of fallout over the photo, the chief shut down his Twitter account Wednesday after meeting with Officer Howard McQuillan, president of the local Fraternal Order of Police lodge, said Sonya Toler, the city’s public safety spokeswoman.

“The chief made that decision, because he was using his personal Twitter account, to hand it over for an investigation to determine if he was in violation of any of our policies,” Ms. Toler said.

On Dec. 31, activists from What’s Up?! Pittsburgh approached the chief in a coffee shop and asked him to pose with a sign that read, “I resolve to challenge racism @ work. # end white silence.”

He did so, happily, and explained his thinking in detail in an email that went out to the entire police bureau.

Although Mayor Bill Peduto was so tickled with his chief that he posted the picture to his own Facebook page, Officer McQuillan took a different tack.

In an email to Chief McLay, Officer McQuillan wrote that the chief’s actions raised “serious concerns” and accused the chief of violating the bureau’s social media policy.

Ms. Toler said she could not discuss details about an ongoing probe. She said, however, that the investigation’s focus on Twitter, as opposed to other social media platforms, was because the complaints “have been about Twitter, not LinkedIn, not Facebook.”

In his email to Chief McLay, Officer McQuillan wrote:

“While I certainly respect your personal feelings and most importantly, freedom of speech, your actions raise serious concerns for me as the President of FOP Lodge #1 and our membership.

“I recall you disciplining two (2) of our members for violating the PBP social media policy. I feel that this Twitter message is also a violation of the policy and, moreover, hypocritical as our Police Chief.”

The last activity on the chief’s Twitter account, @ChiefCSMcLay, appears to be from Monday. Among his 81 tweets to 1,032 followers, Chief McLay retweeted the picture of him holding up the sign during First Night festivities.

He also tweeted: “@endwhitesilence: It’s time for courageous conversations about implicit bias, race and gender @ work & in our communities. It’ll be OK…”

The story, as well as the reaction, made national news on MSNBC and Yahoo Global News with Katie Couric.

The bureau has a social media policy that was instituted in 2012 under former Chief Nate Harper, according to Ms. Toler. “There are, however, various other policies that might apply depending on the circumstances,” she added.

Officer McQuillan could not be reached for comment.

From The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette