In Blue Continuum: A Police Chief’s Perspective on What’s Wrong with Policing Today and How to Fix It [link to website], Robert W. McNeilly, Jr., vividly portrays his rise from police officer to respected chief of one of the nation’s largest police bureaus—a journey that placed him in command just as the city confronted the first U.S. Department of Justice “pattern-or-practice consent decree” in history.
The lessons presented in Blue Continuum resonate forcefully in the 2020s, as a discordant national dialog echoes with protests of abusive policing and calls for strict law-and-order policies.
In 1996, the Justice Department had offered the city of Pittsburgh a chance to avoid a high-stakes federal civil-rights suit by agreeing to make dramatic changes dictated in a formal consent decree. Rather than resist, a newly appointed Chief McNeilly was ready to seize an opportunity.
“When the D.O.J. came in, I pulled out my list and said, ‘These are the things I would do—ethics training, diversity training, communications training for every officer,’” he told The New York Times in 2017. “By 2002, when the Pittsburgh decree expired,” The Times said, “the department was considered a model of progressive policing.”
Chief McNeilly headed the Pittsburgh bureau from 1996 until he retired in 2006. He successfully led the department into compliance with the historic Federal decree between 1997 and 2002. During that time, he introduced a sweeping accountability-and-training program, including an innovative early-intervention system for troubled officers, that’s been called “the gold standard in policing.”
About the Book
Much more than a biography or a case study, Blue Continuum is an operator’s manual for developing and managing effective police forces at any scale. Designed for aspiring or serving chiefs, officers on patrol, and mayors or other elected officials concerned with the almost 18,000 state and local law-enforcement bureaus across the United States, it presents chapter-by-chapter road maps for better, more sustainable law enforcement and public safety.
The book’s title refers to a color-coded shorthand Chief McNeilly developed for assessing his employees. “Officers fall into one of six groups,” he writes. “The police agency providing the proper policy, training, supervision, and discipline will improve the performance of five of the groups and weed out those in the sixth.”
His continuum ranges from sky blue (“excellent, steady, reliable self-starters, the 20 percent responsible for 80 percent of the good police work being done”) to midnight blue (“officers who should never have been hired, a sinister one-to-two percent”).
Without encouragement for high-performing officers and corrective action for laggards, he writes, a department “will be rife with citizens’ dissatisfaction and complaints, lawsuits, improper use of force, excessive vehicle collisions, corruption, and other issues that may result in outside agencies taking some control of the department, disbanding the agency, and terminating personnel, including the chief.”
About the Author
Robert McNeilly, Jr. is one of the nation’s most highly respected metropolitan police chiefs. He was chief of the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police from 1996 until his retirement in 2006. Sworn in as a Pittsburgh police officer in 1977, he had served as a patrol officer, plainclothes officer, sergeant, lieutenant and commander before being promoted to chief. In his 37-year law-enforcement career, Bob gained experience and expertise in a wide range of police work, including patrol, investigations, special operations, traffic, communications, support, and training.
Bob has been a consultant to the United Stated Department of Justice during pattern and practice civil rights investigations of a number of police departments nationwide, and to various municipalities regarding firearms training, searches and seizures, supervision, and use of force.
Upon his retirement from the Pittsburgh Police force, Bob served as chief of a suburban Pennsylvania police department from 2006 until 2014. During those years, he also provided police management training through The McNeilly Group, LLC. Since 2013, he has served as a consent-decree monitor to the New Orleans Police Department.
Bob lives in Florida with his wife of 29 years, former Pittsburgh Police Commander Catherine McNeilly, who is the co-founder of the McNeilly Group.