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

In Praise of Candor

One finds role models and mentors by watching, listening and learning. One of the most entertaining characters that I came across in my service was Chief Superintendent Charles Sweeney of the RCMP. Quite late in his career he was appointed the first Planning Officer for the Force. Consistent with the less precise management practices of the day, he was left to define the role and find his niche on the executive management team. He later told me he was the self-appointed, Officer in Charge of Hollering Horseshit, speaking truth to power at the executive table.

During executive meetings, too many so-called leaders sit on their hands when it is time to speak up. Leadership requires courage – courage to make waves, courage to take on your bosses when they are wrong and the courage of convictions. At a later point in my career working with the senior officer team at Edmonton, at the conclusion of the staff meeting I would single out one participant as winner of the Robert Foster Award for Candor in Management, named for a retired Inspector that always spoke his mind regardless of the consequences. I learned that in group consultation, it is the dissenting opinion that is often the most valuable, because it causes others to carefully examine their own position before rushing to judgment. Leaders must appreciate that dissent is not disloyalty and that reasoned and legitimate dissent is a form of caring, not of resistance.

Candor is the quality of being open and honest in expression.  It’s rooted in truthfulness, sincerity, straightforwardness and in telling it the way it is. Introduced tactfully it leads to shorter meetings and better decisions.  Candor gives people a sense of purpose and belonging, and management teams are stronger and more productive for the benefit.

The Moral Aspects of Policing

When I was first appointed chief of police I was confident of my ability to manage the operational and administrative requirements of the job.  What I had not anticipated was taking on the role of a moral leader in the community.  While some recent events in Canada have provoked criticism of police chiefs for departing from a strictly legalistic role, trust me, the public expect their elected and appointed leaders to defend and occasionally articulate standards of public morality.

This brings me to introduce a recent blog by David C. Couper, one-time Chief of Police in Madison WI (1972-1993) and an icon of the community policing era that began in the late 1970’s.  When David retired he entered the clergy, emerging again in 2012 with his latest publication, Arrested Development, challenging contemporary leaders to make good on an earlier promise of progressive improvement in policing. In a recent post on his website Improving Police, David expounds upon the moral aspects of the profession affecting not only executive leaders but each and every officer in active service. Reviewed in the light of the current crisis in U.S. law enforcement over use of force, deadly or otherwise, it makes provocative reading.  Click here to read the article.



Building Social Capital

It is common practice for police services to recognize meritorious assistance by a citizen in the conduct of police operations.  Often, I think, we are oblivious to the contribution of these simple follow-throughs in building trust and confidence in the police – social capital, using the buzz words of today.  Rudy Desmeules is a veteran officer of the Edmonton Police Service and we served together during my term as Chief of Police in that city.  With his permission, I am reproducing a message he recently sent me regarding a remarkable coincidence. No need for elaboration:  The medium is the message.


Chief Lunney

 I was going through boxes of my police memorabilia when I came across the above letter that I thought might interest you. The letter describes a traffic stop where a senior citizen assisted me.  After arresting the driver on an outstanding warrant, I was in the process of searching him when I discovered a packet of white powder which was later found to be MDMA.  He immediately began to run away from me and in apprehending him, a scuffle ensued.  I had lost my forage cap during the foot chase and while on my knees in mid scuffle, I felt someone tap me on my shoulder.  I turned to see a white haired gentleman with my cap in his hand telling me that I had lost my hat.  That’s when I told him to go back to my police car and call for help on the radio.  It wasn’t long before I heard wailing sirens in the distance and with that the driver surrendered readily.  I handcuffed the driver and returned to my police car where I found Mr. Brandon, just beaming, sitting in the driver’s seat.  Mr. Brandon was so humble when I thanked him for helping me. 

 I was just two years on the job then and Mr. Brandon’s actions had a huge impact on me.  The letter you sent Mr. Brandon acknowledging his citizenship made me extremely grateful and proud to be part of the Edmonton Police Department.  The story doesn’t end there.  In 1992, I was assigned to the Crime Prevention Unit as the Senior’s Liaison Coordinator.  I was southbound on 100 Street, just leaving the Society of Retired and Semi Retired when I ran into an older gentleman.  He stopped me and told me immediately that no matter what people may say, he was a supporter of the Police.  He then proceeded to recount an event in detail to me which seemed like something from the twilight zone, as I recognized my own experience.  Verifying some finer details with him, I told him that I was the officer he had helped.  Neither of us could believe it, but he wasn’t finished.  He then reached into his inner coat pocket and pulled out this yellowed, weathered City of Edmonton envelope.  His thin hands were shaking as he pulled out the above described letter from inside the old envelope.  He told me that he carried this letter with him always and had showed it to everyone he knew.  With that, he shook my hand and went on his way. I’ll never forget Mr. Alan Brandon.

 Just wanted you to know that a letter you sent over 30 years ago still has the same impact it did back in 1983.

 All the best,  
Rudy Desmeules
Edmonton Police Service (retired)

Most Crucial Skills for Front Line Officers

PoliceOne.com is a popular American web-based bulletin board on contemporary policing issues. A posted article from February 18, 2015 reports the results of a staff survey of Facebook contacts asked to rank those skills most-to-least crucial to policing and 3,025 took the challenge.  The results were posted on the internet and while there may be few surprises in the categories and the ranking by respondents, it does no harm to reflect on the variety and range of skills identified. The categories were:

  • Physical/Endurance
  • Firearms Skills
  • Leadership
  • Driving/Automotive
  • Knowledge of Law
  • Critical Thinking
  • Medical Skills
  • Computer Technology
  • People/Social Skills

Ranked on a scale of one to ten, each skill hovers around the mid-point, meaning there was no single skill a majority thought most valued.  Marginally, social skills and critical thinking/problem solving rated the highest.  The second part of the poll invited serving officers to rate themselves against these criteria. There is food for thought here, and perhaps a useful instrument for self-assessment. To read this illustrated post, click here.



Dress for Success because Pros Dress Like Pros

As a member of the last generation to play road hockey with frozen horse buns I am probably not the best person to weigh in on contemporary dress codes; doubly so because the topic places me uncomfortably in sympathy with a recent rant from Hockey Night in Canada’s Don Cherry.

Cherry called out Winnipeg Jet’s Evander Kane for showing up to a team meeting in a track suit, saying, “What you did, come into a team meeting, everybody’s got shirts and ties on and you come in in a track suit, you should be ashamed of yourself.”  During his one minute 15-second rant on Kane, Cherry played a clip of his teammate Blake Wheeler commenting to reporters that professional hockey players must meet a certain standard. “There’s a standard that everyone needs to live up to, we’re professionals, we make a lot of money and we’re expected to uphold a certain standard…if you don’t like it, then there’s other places to go,” said Wheeler.

For many police and government sponsored events these days “Business Casual” is the posted dress code; yet there is no generally agreed definition of business casual.  The “Dress for Success” advice from an unnamed Canadian university quoted in Wikipedia sums up business casual as

“A classic, clean cut and put together look where a full suit is not required”, which means slacks, khakis, or skirts; blouses, polo shirts, or shirts with collar but no necktie; some sweaters; and closed-toe shoes. The university policy ends with the warning that, “It is not clothing you would wear to a club or for athletic purposes…. Don’t let the word casual mislead you. You still need to look professional.”

Regardless of the caution, business casual is a substantial step away from expectations of just a few years ago when suits and ties were the norm for daytime business wear for men, and women dressed in suits or jackets over blouses in classic fashion.

Professional is not a label you give yourself – it’s a description you hope others will apply to you.  To be a professional, you have to act like one and look like one, for appearance is an important factor in presenting yourself as a person to be taken seriously.   While clothing does not determine one’s actual competence and credibility, it does influence the perception of others.

It all comes down to the kind of business you are in and how you hope to present yourself as a member of your work community. While business casual seems appropriate in an informal workplace where creativity and individualism is a part of the culture, highly structured and formal organizations like legal firms, consulting organizations and banks are deemed poor locations for business casual.  Some managers feel that business casual encourages a casual attitude from employees about work, attendance, productivity and professionalism.  There are no studies to suggest that a business casual dress code generates higher levels of productivity.

In the police work place the uniform dress code establishes a high standard for a neat and clean look consistent in every way with a professional image.  The uniform is designed to draw respect and positively influence cooperation.  If you conceive of yourself as a member of a professional police organization then regardless of the venue you will wish to dress in classic conservative business clothing, exhibiting a courteous, conscientious and businesslike manner in the workplace.  Because pros dress like pros.

Police Chief Selection

The City of Toronto will soon open a competition to identify a successor to the current Chief of Police.  This announcement by the Police Services Board touched off a flurry of speculation in the local media and some early prognostication about the desirable attributes of the successful candidate.  This is a familiar issue in mid-to-large cities and regions when the time arrives to replace an incumbent.  A few years ago I was asked to write an article for the Bulletin of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP) enumerating the desirable attributes of the modern police chief. In context of the Toronto situation, I pulled it up to see if it stood the test of time. Check it out below. Few public appointments have a more profound impact on the community than the leader of the services for law enforcement and public order. It is important to get it right.

Attributes of the Modern Police Chief

By Robert Lunney, Chief of Police (Ret.)

 The characteristics, skills and abilities of a successful chief are simple to enumerate but more difficult to fulfill.  While personal qualities of character remain the foundation and our touchstone to the past, new challenges vastly extend the demands on the chief of police.

Leadership – The role of the chief is to inspire people to achieve a higher purpose and to perform at a higher level.  Leaders come in all shapes and sizes and more than one leadership style can be successful, from high profile to quiet effectiveness.  Envisioning goals, affirming values, motivating, explaining, representing and serving as a symbol are all part of the chief’s role, but the chief must also foster the process of organizational renewal.  A leader who demonstrates moral courage – one who is steady, reliable and fair will consistently attract loyalty and trust.

Integrity – The chief’s position requires uncompromising character and honesty in dealings with members and employees, the police authority, the media and the community.  The chief is also responsible and accountable for establishing high standards of integrity within the service.

Predilection for Performance – The police in democratic countries are encountering a storm of demands for performancePerformance means driving down crime and disorder and responding to community needs for reassurance and security.  With the aid of information technology and new analytical tools, it is now possible to effectively challenge an ever more complex crime threat.  The chief must accept this challenge, marshal resources and lead the service to practice continuous improvement.  The chief is the only person who can set the tone for a culture of performance.

Professional Confidence and Experience – Police leaders must know the business of policing better than anyone else.  This means staying abreast of crime trends, new investigative techniques and all current events affecting policing.  Lifelong learning is the key to success in contemporary professional life.

Communication Skills – The ability to communicate is essential in establishing positive relationships within the service and with the community.  While in today’s society it is accepted that chief executives should be capable of delivering anything from an original public address to a thoughtful dissertation to the management committee, everyone has a preferential strength for the written or spoken work or for visual projection.  The important thing is that chiefs know their strengths and deploy them, while acquiring skills to complement the talent would benefit from improvement

Administrative and Management Skills - Directing the development of strategic plans and budgets and overseeing the everyday administration of the service is both an art and a technical skill.  Effective administration is the lifeblood of an organization, ensuring that resources are allocated according to need.  The chief owes the members of the service the highest possible level of administrative efficiency to back them up while they focus on police duties.

Interpersonal Skills –The ability to be professional, friendly and compassionate builds relationships within the service and in the community.  A reasonably high “likeability” factor can smooth the way for problem solving.

Openness to Innovation and Progressive Change – Managing change is the practice of doing constructive damage to the status quo.  Openness to change and a willingness to innovate is vital to successful leadership.

Ability to Delegate Responsibility – The confidence to give permission to good people to do the right thing is the test of enlightened leadership.  By contrast, a ‘no surprise’ management style can lead to people continually looking over their shoulder apprehensively or checking back for reassurance, instead of getting on with the job. People will respond to a leader who invests in their personal and professional growth. The simple act of giving permission is one of the most powerful tools available to a chief intent on running a high performance organization.  A chief who astutely gives permission may stand back and be pleasantly surprised with what happens as a result.

Enthusiastic and energetic Morale Builder – The attitude of the chief has a tremendous impact on the level of optimism and good spirits.  Body language, facial expressions and speech all provide clues to staff forever searching for signs of whether things are going well or not so well.  The chief must be aware at all times of the messages conveyed by everyday behaviour.

Intuition Intuition is the amalgam of experience, information and emotion processed by the subconscious mind.  The power of intuition speaks with that inner voice that alerts the chief to some impending event or cautions against precipitous action.  Intuition must be nurtured, tested and honed. It is not an innate capacity, but a learned capability. Wisdom is an outcome of intuition.

Sense of Fairness and Equity – Chiefs are evaluated on the ability to make judicious decisions and on the degree of fairness implicit in their treatment of people.  This extends to the ability to manage sensitive personnel matters.  You cannot manage a police service without the ability to make decisions perceived as fair in circumstances where discipline and the separation of employees are involved.  This requires skill in assessing the merits of the circumstances against the law or the disciplinary code and making judgments that will hold up under scrutiny.

Partnership Building – The chief must encourage the establishment of collaborative partnerships between the service and the community, and within the organization.  The chief’s personal capacity to build partnerships with other CEO’s and with members of the governing authority is critical to personal success.

Personal Accomplishments – A track record of success with tangible problems is evidence of competency and builds confidence in the ability to lead.  The chief’s CV is out there for all to assess.  It is not immodest to state the facts and accept responsibility for accomplishments.

A Strong Ego and Self Confidence – The media, city council, the police association and the governing board judge the actions of the chief on a daily basis.  It takes a strong sense of self and a thick skin to ward off damaging job stress and insecurity.

Tenacity – Whatever else it is, the chief’s job is hard work.  Woody Allen said, “Ninety per cent of success is showing up.  “Showing Up”, as it turns out, is the first law of policing.  The chief must show up in times of stress and also in quieter times, demonstrating a supportive presence.

Toughness – Toughness in this sense is resiliency – the ability to bounce back from adversity.  Depend on it; there will be plenty of adversity!  It is who is left standing in the end that counts.

Physical Fitness – the Chief must possess the basic capability to perform as a police officer, but a high standard of fitness helps to manage stress and build endurance.

Individuals may aspire to be the best they can, but no one can be perfect.  The striving is in many respects as important as the ultimate goal.  Striving combines a strong sense of mission and a will to succeed with a propensity for action.  In the final sense, leaders succeed not because their followers believe in them, but because they believe in their followers.

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.