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 Shit Disturbers

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying
to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

― George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman

 If you have followed these spitballs you will know of my healthy regard and defense of the dissenting opinion for its value in sorting out the truth and challenging conventional wisdom. Without Shaw’s unreasonable man we might never have advanced beyond hunting and gathering. Thankfully, those who wanted better questioned the status quo and pressed on. In the lexicon of the English language, Shit Disturber is a strictly Canadian phrase. The Urban Dictionary and Collins Dictionary list the term as a vulgar description of a person who purportedly causes needless difficulties or distress to others, or a troublemaker who causes controversy and upsets people. Although crude, the phrase is nonetheless in common use and generally not thought sufficiently offensive to be banned from customary speech.

The offbeat ideas and insights of the Shit Disturber make life interesting. They entertain us with their often absurd ideas and complaints, and despite their vexatious tendencies, there are times when they are quixotically accurate in their assessments and pontification. Shit Disturbers may be hard to cherish (which is the least of what they want in any event) but they make a useful contribution to our endless quest for improvement. A light-hearted tolerance and an occasional nudge of encouragement is the ticket for managing them in your community. Within your organization: How about an annual award for “Shit Disturber of the Year”?

Responsible Stewardship

The maintenance of good order and discipline is a major responsibility for a chief of police and inevitably there are events that require a decision to retain or to fire. When an officer is conspicuously in the wrong the chief must act in the public interest. That decision is more difficult when there are mitigating circumstances. Case in point: As reported by Canadian Press August 4, 2015, Vancouver police Chief Adam Palmer was quoted as supporting an officer who was convicted of assaulting a cyclist in 2013. It was the Chief’s decision to keep him on as a patrol officer despite media insistence that he be fired. Citing this officers extraordinary record for bravery and life saving, Chief Palmer defended him saying, “People may make a mistake on a certain day, but I don’t think they should be judged for their entire career on just one thing. We’re not talking about a situation of an officer who has been in trouble before. This is a one-off thing and I look at the totality of the circumstances and I support this officer.”

In my first year as Chief in Edmonton a patrol officer engaged in a high speed pursuit. The offending vehicle left the city but was safely intercepted on the highway. The officer attempted to extricate the resisting offender from his vehicle, striking him and using force that appeared to be excessive. An RCMP officer witnessed the events and when the driver filed a complaint the Edmonton officer was charged with criminal assault. On conviction he was given a conditional release. The matter was pursued in service court and it was my responsibility to set the parameters for sentence on conviction.

This officer was a productive patrol man with a clear service record. His supervisor and others spoke well of his behavior and potential. In the totality of circumstances I refrained from seeking dismissal. There was criticism from the media and some public concern, but it soon receded. In the years that followed this officer demonstrated a keen ability to detect and solve crime making some outstanding arrests, and at the climax of a bitter and violent labour dispute he performed an act of bravery by stopping a vehicle driving into the picket line in a way that prevented multiple injuries and possible fatalities.

In the case of the Vancouver incident, not only did Chief Palmer make a considered decision based on the totality of circumstances, but he explained publicly and in detail his reasons for doing so; a demonstration of responsible stewardship in command.

Dignity – The Precious Quality

Why is it that some police officers have a natural talent for defusing a contentious or potentially dangerous encounter while others have a knack for making a tricky situation worse? Superficially it may seem that the better approach is due to superior verbal skills and body language, while the less successful response is due to a poor choice of language, speech inflection or an intimidating manner. Learned techniques are one thing, but the ability to demonstrate emotional intelligence is often the most important difference. Emotional intelligence Read More…

Feeling Exposed?

Did you see the YouTube video where the four Detroit police officers responding to a bank alarm rushed by a car containing the robbers to enter the bank looking for them, while the bad guys drove away? Did you catch that video of the off duty police detective who stopped a vehicle for a minor traffic offence and swore at him? How about the police helicopter incident when informal cabin chatter was broadcast to everyone within earshot because the speaker button to the loud hailer was accidently depressed? Have you ever wondered how it must feel to be embarrassed before thousands when your faux pas or incautious remark was recorded and broadcast on social media? No past generation of police officers has ever been so exposed to scrutiny, risk of embarrassment or jeopardy as those in the front lines today, subject to all manner of surveillance through hand held devices, security video, open mics, body worn and dash cams. This heightened degree of vulnerability does not apply solely to police officers nor is it entirely new, for persons in authority have always been subject to critical scrutiny where ever they are and whatever they happen to be doing. But clearly, changing conditions requires changing behaviour.

Brooker Hodges is a Sergeant with Dakota County Police in the State of Minnesota. He holds a Doctorate in Public Administration in addition to other academic qualifications, and he is widely regarded as an expert in police and neighbourhood relations. His article “8 privacy reminders for cops about living in the fishbowl,” was recently published by Police One Magazine. While some police services have anticipated the risks associated with technology and social media and provide cautionary advice to their members, these friendly tips may save some pain and embarrassment, or worse. Check out Dr. Hodges article for helpful tips. (Click Here)


The Fastest Response Time

The headline story in the Edmonton Sun from July 16, 2015 declared, “Edmonton Police Service Response Time is at an All-Time Low.” In the body of the story, it was reported that response time performance is the lowest on record as the city’s population growth puts stress on the patrol force.

A fitting segue, I hope, to a tale by EPS veteran Clif Chapman, Class of ’60, an exceptional police officer and noted commander of tactical units who began to write his personal experiences and stories following retirement. Another of Clif’s stories was published on this website under the title, “There is Nothing Like a Man in Uniform – Oops!” But read on – can you top this?

 The Fastest Response Time

Police response times have always been closely scrutinized. These days computers track everything: average speed-to-answer, time held for dispatch, dispatch and response times and on and on. In the 1960’s the old C1 report was time stamped on receipt, again when dispatched, and still again when the responding unit arrived. These were manually checked and the proverbial crap would hit the fan when too much time had been consumed responding to a call.

All this was only remotely on my mind when, as a young police constable, I plodded along Beat 21 one fine summer night in 1962. As I was shaking hands with yet another door knob, I realized there was one heck of a racket coming from down the block. It was from one of three run-down houses next to an old wheel alignment shop. With the warm night and open windows, it wasn’t hard to tune in on the conversation.

It was a pretty run-of-the-mill domestic dispute. She screamed at him and he shouted obscenities in return. I was about to carry on when I heard her scream, “I’m going to call the cops!” He, of course, told her to go right ahead. Now this had potential! If I could sneak up on the porch and get in position… As the woman wound down her complaint, I reached the door and stood poised with my knuckles bared. I could see her right in front of me with her back to the window. Her parting shot to the complaint line was, “Get over here right now!

The instant the phone hit the cradle, I pounded on the door. She still had her hand on the phone when she leaned back and parted the curtain. She looked incredulously at me standing there in uniform, shot a quick look back at the phone and then another at me before she hesitantly opened the door. I said, “You called the police?” Her mouth was hanging slack and she had trouble getting the words out that she had just called. I grabbed some quick details for a report and then headed off the responding car so she would never know what really happened.

If she is around these days she may still be telling of the time she received the fastest response time ever recorded.

Clif Chapman, Class of ‘60
Last Edit 6 May, 2007

Judged by 12 or Carried by 6?

How often have you heard this phrase uttered in the locker room, by a supervisor or over coffee:

“Your first priority is to go home safe.”

By all means everyone wants to go home safe and for everyone else to do the same, but bad things can happen when you combine this desire with the conventional wisdom of the squad room: that officer safety is the first priority; that police can never retreat; and that immediate arrest is the only solution. This simplistic thinking is how police end up using deadly force in a situation in which there were other alternatives.  Another favourite saying is, “I’d rather be judged by twelve than carried by six.” That is all well and good as long as you are not being judged by twelve for using deadly force in a situation in which there were adequate alternatives, or where you used more force than needed to accomplish a lawful purpose, in which case you may suffer more anguish than you ever imagined awaiting judgment from the jury room.

Simplistic language of this ilk has no place in professional policing.  Before we keep talking ourselves into error prone situations, how about shunting this trite and misleading jargon off to the same place that racist and sexist comments were discarded a few years back, relics of a culture overtaken by higher ideals, better strategies and tactics.

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.