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

Character – The Underrated Quality

Over the years, I have often noticed that some decision-makers are better at picking top performers than others; that while some people are brilliant at recognizing potential, others are dismal failures, making one bad selection after another.  There are cases where a less successful outcome is the result of a faulty appraisal of the skills and experience needed for the position. Another reason may be a flawed assessment in matching the skills of the candidate against the demands of the job.  But one factor is often overlooked or underrated, and that is the quality of personal character. Character is defined as the aggregate of features and traits that form the unique nature or virtues of an individual.  That includes qualities like honesty, courage, integrity, perseverance and resilience. Character is assessed by examining an individual’s performance in testing situations.

I made my share of good picks and bad.  For one disastrously bad pick I based my decision on the candidate’s impressive portfolio of skills, overlooking what should have been clear evidence of a character flaw. In another case involving a recruiting decision, I chose to overlook a less than impressive academic record in favour of a demonstrated history of honesty, hard work and impressive self-assessment. Over a lengthy career that individual became a confident and dependable leader. Looking back, my best picks began with an evaluation of skills against the requirements of the position, but with the clinching judgment resting on demonstrated evidence of good character. If you have not included this factor in your decision making process, best give that some thought.

Tenure Policies on Shifting Ground

Tenure policies are a familiar feature of police management in Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States.  Introduced in the late 1980’s and 1990’s, they were designed to deal with problems related to specialization and the need to ensure that uniformed policing units benefited from the guidance of more senior officers with investigative experience, while at the same time rounding out their qualifications for promotion.  Job rotation also provides junior officers the opportunity to gain investigative and other specialist skills, while bringing to their new role fresh ideas and enthusiasm. Tenure policies ensure equal opportunity and militate against problematic behaviour in specialized squads, where, (as so delicately put in a British police publication),

“Prolonged exposure to the type of work involved in the post may adversely affect the officer’s perception of the overall objectives of the force.”

A cross-skilled work force is more organizationally competent and resilient.  The challenge is to achieve the right balance between the distribution of skills and individual development while retaining the understanding and acceptance of the people affected.  The dearth of research information measuring the outcome of such schemes is worrying.

Following months of internal controversy the Ottawa Citizen announced on July 6, 2015, that the Ottawa Police Service will replace its tenure policy with a yet to-be-designed career oriented plan.  That comes as no surprise, for tenure policies have never been free of controversy, particularly when participation is mandatory. When people reach a level of competence and personal satisfaction in their jobs they are naturally resistant to moving on. A scan of experience in Canada and among our closest neighbours suggests that as a generality, transfers guided by a tenure policy are popular with more junior officers eager for experience in a specialist role, while more senior staff settled in a comfortable role tend to be opposed. Resistance to change is typical factor whatever the reason. While the value of tenure policies may be accepted in principle, wide differences exist between organizations depending on how they are applied and whether mandatory, prescriptive or consultative.

Policing is changing in many ways, and so are the attitudes, desires and needs of today’s work force.  The Millennial Generation has expectations of greater choice and self-determination than the cohort departing the field. It’s hard to believe that the resistance expressed by some OPC officers is unique. The controversy is a heads-up signal for police leaders and likely to spark a re-evaluation of tenure policy by both police management and associations elsewhere.  While there seems a dearth of published research from Canadian sources, the Home Office of the United Kingdom published a useful paper entitled Tenure: Policy and Practice, author Gary Mundy, in the Police Research Series Paper 106, 1999.  Click here for access.


The Box and the Bard

The writings of Robert Service are better associated with the Yukon than those of William Shakespeare, yet where ever the English language is spoken the immortal lines of the bard resonate, sometimes in unforgettable ways.

It was a slow start to the day at RCMP Whitehorse Detachment when a call came in from the construction site of a bridge being built to cross the Yukon River and link the old town with a new sub-division on the north side.  The caller said that human remains were unearthed during excavation and requested attendance of the police. Since I was working day shift, I drove to the site where I interviewed the operator of the excavation equipment. He was digging holes for footings when his bucket raised before his eyes an intact coffin with a complete human skeleton inside. As soon as the coffin was vertical it disintegrated, scattering the remains in the muck. With the help of workers I collected the bones and placed them in a cardboard box, which I carted back to the detachment. In days to follow the local historian told me this site was a known burial ground dating from the Klondike gold rush, when thousands of fortune seekers trekked up the White Pass from Skagway then rafted down the river through Miles Canyon and the Whitehorse Rapids on their way to Dawson City. The burial ground was at the foot of the rapids and held the remains of those who unluckily died by drowning or succumbed to maladies at the re-provisioning site which became the Town of Whitehorse. My skeleton was undoubtedly one of these victims.

Back at the office I sat down to type the initial occurrence report while bantering with two or three others working days.  The box of remains sat on the front counter. Along came George Swatman who had worked the previous evening, a late riser looking for breakfast. Ignoring the rest of us, George peered into the box, extracted the skull, and holding it in the palm of his hand mused:

“Alas poor Yorick.  I knew him in better days, Horatio.”

Without another word he wandered into the dining room looking for coffee, leaving those who knew their Hamlet and those who didn’t equally bemused.  I later arranged for burial space in the local cemetery and prevailed upon a clergyman to say a few words over the long-lost fortune seeker before returning him to the soil.  Had I the wit, I would have signed off my report with, “All’s well that ends well.”

Weeding Your Neighbourhood of Criminals – A Novel Crime Prevention Strategy

In all my 19 years as Chief of Police I have worked with many bright, creative and innovative crime prevention specialists. They tend to be self-starters with high levels of enthusiasm and drive. They also excel at collaboration with community groups and with each other, sharing ideas and information across organizational boundaries. And they love what they do, so much so that many set aside opportunities for promotion to pursue their chosen field. Tom McKay of Peel Regional Police (PRP) epitomizes this role. A multiple award winner, including a Goldstein Problem Solving Award from the Washington DC based Police Executive Research Forum (PERF); Tom never ceases to explore the possibilities for preventing crime in imaginative ways. I was not surprised, therefore, to learn of his most recent conceptual contribution, linking horticulture with the suppression of crime.  The title article was featured on the PRP and Frankie Flowers (Canada) websites.

Click here to check it out.You won’t be disappointed.

Choosing Civility

The state of public civility and police influence on day to day standards of public behaviour has long fascinated me.  My earlier attempt to address the issue appears on this website entitled, Policing the Civil Society.  As police professionals pursue preventive methods for managing crime and public order, inevitably we enter the field of social engineering. Social engineering has most lately been misappropriated to apply to various forms of manipulation and confidence tricks by computer systems hackers.   In the minds of others the term was cast into disrepute by critics of the social sciences as acts of psychological manipulation.  I disagree, and prefer the definition of social engineering as the practical application of sociological principles to particular social problems, an eminently ethical and desirable goal. Read more

Police, Drugs and Corruption – A Postscript

A previous post Police, Drugs and Corruption offered some formulaic methods for preventing wrong doing and scandal in police drug enforcement units.  It seems appropriate to follow up with the sad tale of a drug unit officer who failed in his duty to perform with integrity.  This occurred in the State of Kentucky, but it could have happened anywhere in the United States and Canada.  With his partner, this man answered to over 400 charges including burglary, theft and falsifying search warrants.  On conviction he was sentenced to 20 years in prison.  The former officer agreed to share his story with a news reporter, and a sad tale it is.  To read the news story, Click Here.



Police, Drugs and Corruption

Flashy headlines in Canadian media reports at mid-February 2015 drew attention to an investigation of alleged corruption involving drug cases within Abbotsford B.C. Police Service. Not long ago Toronto Police dealt with problems in a drug unit and less notorious accusations of internal wrong doing have occurred elsewhere.  During my experience consulting with the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) in the United States I took part in two assessments of police agencies struggling to understand and recover from drug unit scandals.  While no two circumstances are the same, there are a few key points of vulnerability common to highly specialized units that deserve studied attention and preventive strategies. Read more