The Pittsburgh Police Bureau is 149 years old, but there may have been more significant changes in its makeup, operation, and supervision during the past decade than at any time in its history, says the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Mayor Bob O’Connor’s firing last week of Robert W. McNeilly Jr., whose tenure as police chief corresponded with this decade of change, suggested more changes may be on the way under the next chief, who is expected to be named by week’s end.
Will the new chief continue the policies and procedures instituted under a federal consent decree that is no longer is in effect, as McNeilly has done? Will the new chief be a stickler for detail and discipline in the mold of McNeilly? Will the new chief seek to beef up staffing, which has fallen from 1,170 officers when McNeilly took over in April 1996 to 869 as of Friday? How could this be done, given the city’s financial problems? Dick Skrinjar, the mayor’s spokesman, said, “The mayor wants to get together with the new chief and the command staff and sit in a room, close the door and figure out with the experts how to improve the service and operation of the police department and how to make Pittsburgh America’s safest city.” Pittsburgh’s policies and procedures are now hailed as models in law enforcement, said Chuck Wexler of the Police Executive Research Forum, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that has worked for the U.S. Justice Department and police departments nationwide. A frequently cited example of the department’s “best practices” is a computerized early-warning system that analyzes all aspects of an officer’s job performance so that hints of trouble can be dealt with quickly. Officers doing exemplary work also can be rewarded with choice assignments or other benefits.