Spitballing is a term for throwing out ideas for consideration at a business meeting in advance of detailed development.

I invite you to check out the spitballing menu on this page and respond when something strikes you as provocative or something you agree or disagreee with.

Robert F. Lunney

Preserving Trust in Policing

Back in 2004, urban systems guru Jane Jacobs published a slim volume entitled; “Dark Days Ahead” that quickly became a best seller.  Jacobs painted a dismal view of societal failings that, if not arrested, would condemn our civilization into a downward spiral of ultimate failure.  The Chapter entitled “Self-Policing Subverted” addressed seemingly widespread problems with the self-policing practices of the learned professions – architecture, medicine, engineering, the law, and the reluctance or failure of their professional colleges or associations to act for protection of the public or in defense of their treasured professional tenets.  Here is what she had to say about the police:

“Police officers form organizations too, which are the most self-protective of all.  Even when police don’t organize into police benevolent associations, they are exaggeratedly protective of one another.  Police can seldom be depended on to police themselves. …..  When police crimes are unmasked, it is usually done by investigative journalists, sometimes helped by brave informants from the inside and increasingly helped by scientists such as forensic biologists and demographers.  The standard reform attempted is a new layer of oversight: a civilian review board to receive and deal with accusations by the public….  Short public memory – every scandal is only a nine-day wonder – and sincere but sentimentalized public appreciation of the risks police run tend to undermine civilian review boards as long-term remedies.”

Jacobs goes on to state:

“There is no quicker way for a profession to lose public respect than to cover up, institutionally, for members who have done arrant wrong.”

For police to serve with public consent and cooperation, that public must be able to respect those who perform the policing function.  When trust and confidence exists the community gives permission for police to function based on a sense of legitimacy.  Lacking legitimacy in the eyes of the public, the police become an arbitrary force undeserving of cooperation and support.

Confidence in policing is high in Canada compared to international peers.  A World Values survey found that more than 80% of Canadians reported having, “a great deal” or “quite a lot,” of confidence in police. This compares favourably with confidence levels in the United Kingdom and the United States, and is on par with those in Australia and Switzerland.  The disquieting news is that trend data from Canadian public opinion polls suggest a decrease in public trust in police officers. Ipsos Reid polls comparing 2003 with 2011 found that public trust in police officers dropped 16%.  A 2010 survey by EKOS found a decrease over previous years.  Evidence of failing support strongly suggests the need for attention to probity and first principles. The second of Peel’s Nine Principles of Policing directs officers, To recognize always that the power of the police to fulfill their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behaviour, and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect.”  It’s all very well to be faithful to those who you work with and for leadership to encourage the qualities of teamwork and loyalty, but misplaced loyalty and a failure to live up to better instincts and values will ultimately damage the trust and confidence of the public that police officers are sworn to protect, and lest anyone forget, pay for salaries and those treasured benefits. Preserving the public trust requires an overarching commitment to integrity, truth and honour.

As Others See Us

Among the nine principles of policing of Sir Robert Peel is the proposition: “Police must secure the willing cooperation of the public in voluntary observance of the law to be able to secure and maintain the respect of the public.” Members of the public take every opportunity to observe the police and judge their behavior. Making a good impression, by appearance, word or deed, is fundamental to ensuring public respect and cooperation.  Paul Cappitelli is a consultant on police and public safety with a background as a front line officer.  In a column published by PoliceOne.Com on November 6th, 2014 he discusses 10 things that fuel a negative police image among the public:

  1. Driving recklessly and/or unnecessary speeding in a police vehicle
  2. Talking on a mobile device while driving a police vehicle
  3. Texting while driving a police vehicle
  4. Not wearing seat belts in a police vehicle
  5. Parking the police vehicle in a no parking or handicap zone
  6. Fueling the perception of special privilege
  7. Accepting “police discounts”
  8. Unsightly personal appearance
  9. Non-uniform uniforms
  10. Treating individuals disrespectfully no matter the situation

The list alone is insufficient to convey the impact of this straightforward reminder to all active officers and supervisors of the importance of building and sustaining the confidence of the public.  Police academies and front line supervisors take note.   I urge readers to check out the full text.


We Need Guys Like You

The fraternal nature of policing lingers on long after retirement, and if you are lucky you will form affiliations with other retirees to preserve the arc of common experience.  In such company I found myself recently, sharing a coffee at Tim Horton’s, Canada’s cultural way station.  The topic swung around to sharing stories about how we had first become interested policing.  One of my confreres  who  had served first in the RCMP and then as a municipal  police chief, related how as a young man out of high school he worked for an express delivery firm in a small city.  A member of the RCMP detachment frequently used the service for a variety of shipping purposes, and they struck up a business acquaintance.  My friend’s attitude and reliability and apparently aroused the interest in this officer, and one day he asked my friend to get time off and join him for coffee.  After the exchange of pleasantries this officer began to ask the young man personal questions about his school record, work experience and life style in a way that my friend found probing but he answered willingly.  The conversation wound up with the policeman saying, “You are probably wondering why I asked you all these questions.  It’s because I think you would make a good candidate for the RCMPWe need guys like you.”

The rest is history, but it set me thinking about contemporary recruiting practices as contrasted with the past and my own experience assessing candidates as an RCMP Personnel Officer in the Ottawa region and northern Ontario in the 1960’s.  Police programs are under pressure throughout the free world in the wake of economic turn-downs.  U.K. forces are facing budget reductions as deep as 20%.  Consolidations and re-structuring brought major change to many departments in the United States and in Canada concern for rising police costs triggered the Economics of Policing project led by Public Safety Canada.  One of the proposed reforms in the U.K. and  now eyed in Canada, is the option of  out-sourcing some administrative and  operational activities, either to private enterprise, NGO’s or to other branches of local government.  Depending on circumstances and cost/benefit analysis, there may be merit in some of these proposals.  More than one police service contracts out vehicle servicing and in some cities, the finance or human resources department of the civic service may already provide services to police.  Out-sourcing of the record keeping, maintenance and basic policy administration may work if tangible financial savings are achieved, but the out-sourcing of recruit screening and selection is just not a good idea.

The standard procedure for hiring and selection is to undertake the simplest and cheapest processes first, beginning with compliance screening of personal information and credentials. Screening skills can be taught and carried out by a clerk.  The initial interview is the next step, a preliminary screening for social skills, personality, appearance and motivation. This step must be conducted by an experienced police officer. It takes one to know one, at entry point and doubly so at the final interview stage.  Efficiency in hiring and retention rests on making the right selections for the right reasons.  Police officers skilled in assessing people and devoted to their profession have the experience and intuition to make this critical judgment: We need guys and gals like you.

Time to Revisit Community Policing

Disturbing events in Ferguson MO have had many progressive police leaders in the United States thinking about the root causes of public dissent and disorder, and methods for avoiding the rift between police and residents which preceded the police-involved shooting in this suburban community.  Drew Diamond, former Chief in Tulsa OK and for sixteen years a key staff member with the Washington DC based Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) was one of a number of municipal chiefs at the heart of the creation and development of Community Policing.  He is co-author of Racially Biased Policing, a publication funded by the U.S Department of Justice and widely circulated in the United States and Canada.  Writing most lately in the Smart Growth Tulsa Coalition blog, Chief Diamond decries the lost momentum of community policing in many cities.  Lest we fail to admit, this is also the case in some Canadian jurisdictions where community policing is given little more than lip service.  He speaks for many of the more progressive police leaders on both sides of the border when, in closing, he observes: “The ability to maintain peace in our community is based on trust and accountability, trust between a community and its police and that each person is held accountable for his or her actions. The philosophical construct of community policing has proved to be the best possible response to ensuring that police practices uphold the human rights, civil rights, and dignity of all people.”

To read the full text, click here.

Performance Ritual for Street Policing

Hill Street Blues is an American serial police drama that aired on NBC in 1981 and ran for 146 episodes on prime time until 1987.  The quintessential cop show, it was the precursor of many police dramas to follow.  The early part of the series featured actor Michael Conrad in the role of veteran cop Sgt. Phil Esterhaus, who ended the introductory roll call to each week’s show with “Let’s be careful out there.”  The wisdom of this mantra was not lost on a generation of real life squad sergeants who soon developed their own trademark sign-offs.  And thus another ritual was born.

The role of positive rituals in policing is described in Judy M. McDonald’s book Gold Medal Policing, earlier introduced to readers of this blog under the title “Gold Medal Policing Re-Visited.” Professor McDonald makes the connection between mental readiness and performance excellence in sport as transferable to front line policing. Another reference is Mentally Tough – The Principles of Winning at Sports Applied to Winning in Business, by Dr. James E. Loehar and Peter J. McLaughlin, listing the influence of positive ritual as a key success factor.

Rituals are a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order. Rituals are comforting and reinforce individual and group intent. Watch an NHL club emerge from the locker room prior to the start of a game.  They exit in a pre-determined order, often led by the goaltender. The Captain stands by the door, recognizing each player in turn with a nod or a pat.  In the pre-game warm up certain players will skate to the goalie, touch his shoulder or tap on his pads.  The goal tender marks his turf by conditioning the ice and rapping on the pipes.  All rituals are part of the preparation for action.  It is the same in all premier sports.

Viewed as a performance style, policing has much in common with team sports.  Uncertainty of outcome is a given and each squad member knows that he or she must depend upon others to back them up, provide advice and support and cover for them when needed. While there are outstanding individual performers as on any team, no one succeeds without the contribution and backing of others – partners, squad mates, supervisors and police staff.  It follows that officers and squads can advantage the impact of positive rituals in their everyday routines in much the same way as premier athletes.

Preparation for a shift (think game day) begins at home with a properly chosen diet at the right time.  The drive to work is an opportunity to run through a mental check list and to think about the challenges that may be encountered during the shift.  Preparation in the locker room is another opportunity for a positive ritual: The order in which one dons uniform and equipment; the banter with mates; and the safety checks.  The squad meeting is another ritual, following a familiar routine of briefing and inspection led by the Sergeant until the squad disperses onto the street.  Positive rituals reassure and contribute to a sense of teamwork and unity. Be clear, however, that ritual differs from superstition.  Superstitions depend on something beyond your control and are negative.  And not all rituals are positive. Smoking cigarettes, drinking too much coffee or relying on tranquilizers or other drugs diminishes intensity.

In a broader sense rituals extend to diet, exercise, leisure time and thought patterns.  A healthy diet and an exercise ritual contribute to fitness and the capability to meet physical and mental challenges. Music can be part of preparation, either when driving to work or cranked up in the locker room.  And always there is the “What if?” agenda, the ritual of mentally preparing for both the conceivable and the unexpected challenges that could occur at any time.

Ritualistic habits can get you through the common challenges of dealing with stress, such as the practice of psyching one’s self up or down as needed, the ability to advantage five minutes of down time to relax, and the ability to recognize when a few moments of deep and measured breathing will relieve tension and help you think more clearly.  Finally there are the mantras or maxims that should be at everyone’s disposal – those very personal and meaningful key words or phrases repeated in the mind to get one through a testing experience. If you have experience in sport, you know how the silent repetition of a catchphrase can keep you going despite adversity. Mantras and positive rituals are like an insurance policy.  Thoughtfully planned, honed and habitually practiced, they ensure higher standards of group and personal performance.

Policing Canada in the 21st Century

Whether one is a police leader or a student of policing, a recently released paper on Policing Canada in the 21st Century is compulsory reading.  Sponsored by Public Safety Canada, Justice Canada and the RCMP, the Council of Canadian Academies was presented this charge:

Given the evolution of crime, the justice system and society, what do current evidence and knowledge suggest about the future of the public policing models used in Canada?

A multidisciplinary panel was assembled by the Council, chaired by Hon Stephen Goudge, Q.C. together with ten distinguished academics well known in the Justice community, but just one person with policing credentials, Darrel Stephens, a retired American police chief and currently Executive Director of the Major City Chiefs Association.  The report was reviewed in draft form for objectivity and quality by eleven persons with the majority drawn from Canadian academia but including Chief Jim Chu, Vancouver, Cal Corley, former Director General of the Canadian Police College, and Chief Jennifer Evans of Peel Regional Police. This initiative is a contribution to the Economics of Policing (EOP) project pursued by the Ministry.  EOP was given national prominence in March 2013 with a conference at Ottawa.  A second conference is scheduled for 2015.

The body of the report deals with external challenges facing Canada’s police followed by an assessment of internal issues and proposed opportunities to enhance knowledge and accountability.  While long time observers and practitioners of policing will find no revolutionary theories or unorthodox notions in the assessments and recommendations, this paper is a serious and practical contribution to debate on the economics of policing and on the changing character of crime and disorder in the 21st century.   There is a helpful enumeration and assessment of promising strategies for coping with change.  These include institutionalization of collaborative partnerships similar to the core model pioneered in Prince Albert but including concepts for a still broader scope, tiered policing, and the transfer of routine security functions to the private sector to name a few. The report envisions creation of a safety and security web encompassing a broad community of contributing agencies and interests.  As to internal needs, the paper recommends pursuit of professionalization by police with the option of creating a College of Policing to work towards a system of national standards establishing mechanisms for performance measurement and accountability.  The challenge for the future is encapsulated in this concluding statement:

“For their part, police and other non-government actors can help initiate change by embracing three prominent themes that emerge from this assessment: adaptation, interdependence, and knowledge. Together, these themes characterize the opportunities for making 21st-century policing more effective, more efficient, and better aligned with the ever-changing environment in which police now operate.”

 To read the full report (recommended) click here.



There is Nothing Like a Man in Uniform – Oops!

The uniform of a disciplined organization instills pride and attracts attention. But in the life of those who wear that uniform, there inevitably arrives that embarrassing moment when we are undone by our own well-concealed vanity.  Through a happy coincidence I came across one such moment described by my friend Clif Chapman, a retired member of the Edmonton Police Service, which seemed a good bookend to a tale of my own misadventure.  With Clif’s permission, I offer his anecdote with my own tacked on. 


Clif Chapman©1998, 2003, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2011 All World Rights Reserved

Ah, the summer of ’62; warm weather and a day beat among the living. What more could I want? I stood smartly at ease wearing the old Eisenhower button-down tunic and “ice cream hat” cover that said, “its summer at last – Beatmen rejoice”. I was feeling pretty proud of myself, complete with a pair of issue sunglasses and free at last of my odoriferous buffalo coat.

I had arrived ahead of time at the callbox, 103 St. and 100 Ave. Foster and McGarvey had no funerals that day, so behind me was quiet but in front of me was a sea of life. I was lost in the sea when out of the corner of my eye came the flutter of a small pennant. It was mounted on the right front fender of a very big and very shiny car. The Lieutenant Governor! Those were the days of salutes and God help the poor Beatman who didn’t get off the “Big Five” when a ranking member was expecting it. And J. Percy Page expected it!

What an opportunity! I was going to lay the smartest salute on him he had ever seen. This was going to be one for the books. I timed it just right. As our eyes met, I snapped to attention. My arm shot up and…CRACK!There was a resounding burst of noise and pain. Damn! I had brought my wrist up smashing into the callbox! I kept a stony face as I completed the world’s worst salute in front of His Honour, the Honourable Lieutenant Governor. It was too much for Percy. As he touched his homburg in a replying salute, the corner of his mouth was jumping like crazy as he tried desperately to suppress a laugh. I’m sure that once he was out of sight, he leaned forward and tapped his driver on the shoulder asking, “Did you see that dumb cop nearly clean the callbox off the post with that salute?”

Oh well, it was still a sunny day. There was still a lot a life on the streets and I knew another Beatman who had walked squarely into a street sign while checking out some skirts. Like him, I would survive. Now, if only Percy would keep it under his homburg.



Robert Lunney

In the Spring of 1954 I was a Third Class Constable in the RCMP, a newly minted rookie posted to “O” Division Toronto following training.  This particular morning I was delayed in leaving Beverly Barracks for the short trek down to our Headquarters on Sullivan Street.  The Barracks was formerly a stately home once the Consulate of the Government of Italy but seized at the start of World War II and turned over to the RCMP. It was a brilliant morning and I was in uniform, Stetson hat, brown tunic, highly polished boots and breeches.  Striding purposefully down Beverly I crossed busy Dundas Street and thereupon spotted a gorgeous young woman coming my way, but on the other side of the street.  She was stylishly dressed, good figure, with long blonde hair.  Not wanting to miss one moment of this captivating vision, I continued to march along, eyes left, until – BONK, I walked squarely into a power pole embedded in the sidewalk.  Lucky for me, the edge of my Stetson took much of the impact, leaving me only to nurse my embarrassment and regain my composure.  I don’t even know if she noticed me, and I hoped that no one else had. Sixty years later I live in Downtown Toronto and my walks and errands often take me down Beverly Street.  The power pole remains solidly in place, unmoved no matter how many yokels have slammed into it over the years.  Ain’t life grand?