Author: drallanbonner

New York Cops

A few years ago, I was walking up the steps to Madison Square Garden in New York City.  A cop turned around to stare.  What caught his eye was my two boys with shoulder length hair, one with a vintage Who T-shirt and the obligatory denim.  We were entering the fabled Garden to see the legendary British invasion rock group The Who.  Thus, the cop’s comment seemed appropriate.

 

“Aren’t you guys supposed to be on stage by now?” Certainly I, and probably my sons, will forever love New York cops because of this experience.  It’s been reinforced a few times as I ask directions, inquire about their use of mopeds and so on.  The cops in New York engage in a helpful, friendly way, I’ve found.  And, yes, I’ve seen, heard and read occasional news reports to the contrary.  

 

But back to the nice experience with cops in a city.  In business this kind of experience might be called a “defining moment.”  It’s the moment you use to define an organization–service, quality, speed and so on.  If the food doesn’t come quickly at a fast food restaurant, it loses reputation.   

 

According to author Anil Anand, police officers have a huge impact on social attitudes and social policy via these kinds of moments.  Don’t many of us have impressions of Georgia through interactions with the highway patrol there?  I guess that’s another story.    

 

Anand has written a book called Mending Broken Fences Policing an Alternative Model for Policy Management.  Who better than a 30-year veteran cop who rose to senior management, took part time graduate degrees in law and business, and is now trying to fix a lot of stuff that’s broken as a consultant, trainer and speaker.  

 

Like a good cop he questions everything. I can just hear Joe Friday from the old TV show “Dragnet” saying, “Really…how’s that…are you sure…just the facts, mam.”

 

Well, the facts include the fact that the much praised “zero-tolerance” strategies end up alienating entire neighbourhoods and causing cooperation with police and the reporting of crime to go down.   Anand also notes that we are more fearful, despite less crime, and notes there’s little correlation between poverty and crime.  

 

This book uses business techniques to show that police services lack normal checks, balances and metrics to judge efficiency and effectiveness.  And a typical cop’s day–perhaps 18% of calls are about crime and 40% of days is spent on crime.  So what are they doing?  The average cop must have the “competence of nurses and social workers [and] …paramilitary commandos. Oddly the officer is “…alone in dealing with citizens when making emergent des icons, with very little guidance and almost no supervision.”

 

Other than this, all is well in our police forces.  

 

This is a good little book on a big, big topic.  

 

Oh, as for the Who concert, Zak Starkey played drums.  Ringo’s kid is a good drummer and replaced the remarkable Keith Moon who played drums as if they were lead guitar.  I’d been to many earlier and iconic concerts over the year—Cream in Paul Sauve Arena in Montreal, Zepplin, Creedence, The Beach Boys, Sedaka, and the Monkees in Vancouver, and Dylan in Toronto.  This Who concert was the only one I’d been to with Champaign service in the seats.  

 

Times have changed.  But the cops made the night as much as anything.    

 

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The Anand book is available here and on Amazon, Indigo, and other on-line resellers.  

Being a cop, Anand does his own security, and he apparently does his own bookings.  He’s no longer undercover and can be reached at aaswadee@rogers.com.  

New York Cops is courtesy of: http://www.allanbonner.com

Lessons from David Bowie

Originally posted January 25th, 2016

DavidBowieScaryMonstersCover

The 36 year anniversary of the release of Scary Monsters


David Bowie did not register with me until very late in his career, and long after my intense interest in rock and roll. I had been in the right place on a couple of occasions, starting in 1968 in Montreal’s Paul Sauve Arena for a concert by Cream, the supergroup. That was an end of grade 8 treat. Then my family moved to Vancouver where I saw Zepplin, Creedence and even the Monkees in concert.

By the time I started in university radio at UNB, I was playing old gold, nostalgia music, just a little before it was popular to do so. I guess I’d been influenced by my sister—5 years older. She was listening to Buddy Holly, Spector’s wall of sound and then the Beatles. The rock and rollers I admired had rejected Elvis’ gold lame suit from the cover of the album Elvis for Everyone. Even folk protestor, Phil Oachs had mocked this show-bizzy look by wearing the same kind of suit at his “Gunfight at Carnegie Hall.”

Rockers wore jeans, Credence wore lumberjack shirts, some wore buckskin jackets and capes. David Bowie’s glamour rock was a little hard to understand. So were his alter egos. But a university roommate played me “Song for Bob Dylan and I had to respect Bowie’s respect for tradition. This 1971 effort pays tribute to Dylan paying tribute to Woodie Guthrie.

Bowie captures the rhythm of Dylan’s singing without doing an imitation. I filed that respect away for a few decades and kept an open mind. When my son Christian showed interest in Bowie, it was not from a quick listen to a novelty song. Christian is a producer of music, stage performer, and audio engineer.  When I heard that Bowie was influenced by West Ender Anthony Newley, Christian played me “Space Oddity” and “Starman” so I could hear Bowie’s interest and aspirations in music theatre.

A really other odd connection to other types of music, David Bowie took an early stab at translating “Comme D’habitude” for Newley, which didn’t work. But another translation by Paul Anka did work for Frank Sinatra. Hum…Sinatra, Bowie, Newley, Dylan, Woodie. What a party.

Maybe Bowie never resonated with me because in my day there were absolutes, clear purpose and direction, and a radical dualism or polarization of sorts. The cold War was us vs them. Music was divided along colour lines—not just R & B and white cover versions, but also literally with different colours for 45 rpm records in different genres. I remember country was green, there were some red and I forget what else.

In the 50’s and 60’s politics, movies and music there was “right and “wrong”, “good” and “evil” and most importantly for rock and roll vs everything else. To be a fan of Elvis Presley or the Rolling Stones you were signaling to your community that you were part of a subculture, usually a group of undesirable radicals who opposed the establishment at every turn.  Even the counterculture of the 60’s still defined itself by what it opposed, and in doing so relied up the old bipolar worldview.

We made Frank Sinatra cry, apparently. Mr. S. sat along playing Elvis’ All Shook Up and Heartbreak Hotel over and over again, crying and trying to figure out what was so special about But back to David Bowie. Perhaps the reason why my son loves David Bowie is because of the radical shift in modern culture that happened in the time between my start in radio in the early 70s, and his growing up in the 80’s and 90’s.  The personality disc jockey of the 1960s was fading fast. My heroes, the ones who kept me company in the car and at night were nearing the ends of their careers—Jackson Armstrong (CHUM), Charles P. Rodney Chandler, Roger Scott (CFOX), Stevie Grossman (CKLG) were having their dead cat bounces.

They made way for playlists and focus groups. My little connection with this fading world included playing Backgammon with Buddy Knox (Party Girl) until 3 AM on night and working with the great DJ, turned TV host Fred Latremouille. But where did Bowie fit in to this sea change to a more corporate approach to radio and top 40? My son says it involved an artistic shift to plurality.  Perhaps if Bowie wasn’t going to please corporations, and yet didn’t have a direct connection to his audience without those corporations, he decided to please himself. His career was about personal introspection and subjective interpretations.

No artist could better express this shift or embody this shift than David Bowie.  The endless reinvention and exploration of characters and identity fits perfectly in line with our compartmentalized, isolationist modern lives.  If you’re packed in with hundreds of other people on the subway, all blocking each other out with smartphones and earbuds, why not pretend you’re an intergalactic rock-star, anonymous Berliner or the cruel Thin White Duke? David Bowie means something slightly different to every one of his fans.  In my time capturing the public consciousness meant radio hits, but post- Bowie it’s all about the way you make your audience feel.  The intimacy is in the earbuds, as if the sound was all made especially for you.

Bowie was so interested in a more audience centred version of his art, and the new technology of the internet that he famously raised money through “Bowie Bonds” leveraging the profits from future sales of his back catalogue, to start and Internet Service provider “BowieNet”.  Ultimately, both of these ventures ended with lukewarm results, but early adopter and visionaries are often punished by the market for their prescience. It’s staggering to think Bowie was Born in the bombed out ruins of England post World War 2, and ended his life on the cusp of an entirely different, splintered world of internet nihilism and non state actors, and that he remained one step ahead of the pack through it all.

It’s sad for me and many others of my generation to think that we will never again experience the kind of once in a lifetime mass media experiences we had back in the 60’s like the moon landing or the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. But it’s exciting to think of where we might go in search of our own personal truth as David Bowie did.

The blog post Lessons from David Bowie was originally published to: http://www.allanbonner.com

The Myth of the News Conference

I was helping a multi-national company and the task at was the staging of a news conference to announce the launching of a life-saving product.  My client had hired a PR/event company to handle this.  I poked my head into the room to see the arrangements.  There were about a dozen chairs around a U shaped set of tables.  Name cards for journalists told me who might be arriving.  Toronto’s about the most media saturated city in the world with four daily newspapers, a few free newspapers, lots of radio, lots of TV, including educational TV networks in English and French.  

So no one could know all the players.  But what I did notice was that I didn’t recognize a single name on the cards around the table.  Some appeared to be attached to well-known media outlets—City TV for example.  When I asked about a few of the names, I was told they were freelance, commentators, or had recently worked for that outlet.  I had my doubts.  

It seems to me that companies that arrange news conferences for clients have a stable of 3rd string media people who can be invited if need be.  This will not guarantee coverage, and, in fact, no coverage may be the more likely result.  But there’s a relatively full room, with people who look like working journalists and everyone goes away happy.  

This probably costs about $1000 per person to stage.  

The better way is a media tour of town.  During rush hour, the Toronto Star newspaper near the waterfront is about an hour from Global TV in Don Mills.  That’s an hour from CTV along the 401 highway in Agincourt.  Back downtown the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the public broadcaster, is just a half hour from the Toronto Star and another 20 minutes to the Globe and Mail newspaper.  On this goes.  

The thought that assignment editors are going to authorize a minimum of a 3 hour round trip (including the actual press conference, in old media slang one might say a newser) is unrealistic.  With a camera crew for TV, that’s a significant cost with no guarantee of actual news.

But, most stations have morning and noon talk shows.  They have reporters and writers on site who can pop away from their computers for a moment to conduct a brief interview.  All-talk radio stations present a similar opportunity.  Newspapers have editorial boards and if you’re not that newsworthy, a board member, or columnist or reporter might be interested.             

The media tour of town is a way to meet with reporters at a cost of $100 per person, if you play it right.  I know.  I’ve sometimes done so many media interviews that I’ve left one network’s makeup on my face, got in a cab and driven to another network and gone right on.  At CP24, the all-news station, I’ve sometimes been interviewed on the CTV all-news cable network and BNN, another all-news business network, several times on one visit. They all share the same floor of a building and their cameras are about 50 paces apart.

The Myth of the News Conference was originally seen on: Allan Bonner Crisis response Training Blog

Olympics Are Out, But Not Big Ideas

As you well know from listening to long-gone Mayor Jean Drapeau of Montreal, the Olympic Games can no more have a deficit than a man can have a baby.  There have been breakthroughs in medical science since the Mayor promoted the 1976 Olympics in Montreal.

Calgary, Sarajevo, Beijing, Barcelona, Seoul, Los Angeles and Salt Lake City appear to be on a short list of cities which made money on the games.  Vancouver’s costs are bundled up with a billion dollars in security, 2.5 billion in transport projects, 900 million for a new convention centre and more than 500 million in spending by the city.  So, who knows?

These ancillary costs skew the accounting.  But they’re also one of the reasons to bid for the games.  A big event in the life of a city is a good reason to improve transport, housing, parks and other amenities. It’s just like a big event in your home life.  Company’s coming, so let’s spruce up.

In the case of Montreal, there was also a political goal.  Quebec Premier Maurice Duplessis apparently said that Expo 67 would keep separatism at bay for a decade, and the ’76 Olympics would so the same for another decade.  After that it was up to others to deal with.

Toronto’s decision to suspend bidding for the Olympics after almost 50 years of on and off-again trying, may be a model for other cities.  In the 1960s, holding the games was a great idea.  Toronto needed a new stadium and other amenities—and to be put on the map.

Fifty years later, the calculations are more complex.  That new stadium or other sports facilities can cost up to a billion dollars.  This becomes a subsidy to professional sports team owners who make their money on boxes, parking, and advertising.  With only eight NFL home games a year, it turns out to be pretty expensive per game.  Very few other events need a stadium as big as will accommodate the NFL, and there are fewer than a dozen organizations who can hold conventions that will fill it.  

In terms of getting on the map, the landscape has changed there as well.  Mayor Jean Drapeau famously sat in the audience of the old Ed Sullivan variety show so that Ed would introduce him to the network TV audience.  Today, like Mayor Nenshi of Calgary, a mayor sometimes vaults into office via social media and manages a big event, like the Calgary flood in the same way.    

So, publicity and amenities are not as strong a draw as they used to be.  But there’s one more issue—terrorism.  Notoriety makes you a target and so does infrastructure.  Leaving aside secondary targets and targets of opportunity, few people will attack an unknown location, one with few bystanders or a mundane piece of infrastructure.  

It may be that rotating the Olympic games through a number of recent host cities which have facilities and a security plan is the route to go.

But, how to push civic projects ahead without the expense, uncertainty and potential danger of the games?    

If the Olympics are out as a big idea, what’s another one?  How about a public communication campaign and then civic goal of creating affordable housing, ending homelessness, reducing commute times, expanding parkland, or improving resiliency—a city’s ability to withstand a weather event or other emergency.  These aren’t as sexy as the Olympics, but the right mayor can help make these issues a civic priority, a source of pride and perhaps even fun.   

Olympics Are Out, But Not Big Ideas is available on: Allan Bonner Crisis response Training Blog

To Your Health

Cities are good for your health.  This hasn’t always been the case.  Dickens’ London and Jacob Riis’ New York featured open sewers, high infant mortality, little air circulation in tenements, rancid food, and other ills.  About the same time that immigrants were pouring into New York in the mid 1800s, immigrants to rural areas could build a home out of stone or wood, hand dig a well and thrive in relative cleanliness and comfort.  For the New York experience, visit The Lower East Side Tenement Museum at 97 Orchard Street.  For the rural one, look out the window as you drive anywhere in Eastern North America.

The transition to healthy cities was not easy, but did provide huge benefits eventually.  In about 1800, North America was almost entirely rural.  By 1940 it was more than 50% urban.  After cities hooked up sewers, potable water, and got rid of horses, the benefits flowed.  Robert J. Gordon documents this in his book The Rise and Fall of American Growth.   He refers to the “economies of density”.  Density means lots of customers, and economies of scale.  Thin cut lumber for home construction, standardized tools, bulk manufacturing, and hundreds of other innovations made prices drop, quality improve and innovation occur.  

You can still see odd-shaped square nails in barns in rural eastern Canada.  Some were hand-made and others were horse-shoe nails—what was available when the barn went up.  A rural tradition was burning down derelict buildings to obtain the nails.  But, between 1830 and 1930 density and consumerism caused nails to drop in price by a factor of ten—problem solved.  

Gordon uses electricity as an example of an increase in quality and safety, in addition to price.  Burning town gas (a by-product of turning coal in to coke), whale oil, or kerosene produced less than a tenth the light of a 100-watt bulb.  In the late 1800s, between five and six thousand people died each year in the US because of fire caused by lamp accidents.                  

Today, some bemoan the suburban big box stores such as Walmart.  Others praise the lower prices, competition, and jobs.  Gordon points out that we’ve had this debate a couple of times before.  Country stores used to give credit until the crop came in, but didn’t have standardized prices or goods.  In the mid to late 1800s, starting with Macy’s (and Eaton’s in Canada), and then Montgomery Ward, Sears, JC Penny, and others, good things started happening.  Prices became firm and competitive, and quality was better, and stable.  Catalogues allowed everybody to buy everything.  In food, in part thanks to Upton Sinclair’s expose The Jungle, and in part thanks to chain food stores, the milk sold was mainly milk and not watered down or stretched with foreign substances, and meat was mainly meat and not waste.       

Before the economies of density, shoppers would gather up items and buy them at the checkout for a particular section of a store.  Then they’d do the same in another section-adding time, labour, and cost to shopping.  The central checkout was a savings for all.  

Gordon’s book reminds us how well off we have it in cities.  But the down side is that the leap of progress from 1870 to 1970 could happen only once.  We got a dead cat bounce with high tech around the turn of the 21st century, but that’s not likely to happen again.

 

Here’s why.  We might get a little economy out of being able to pay via our smart phones anywhere in the store, but that’s an improvement on the margins, not a great leap.

We’ll have to be content with health, because service and great economic progress seem to have peaked.     

The following post To Your Health was first published to: Allan Bonner Communications Management INC

People and Society Need Safety

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani gets a lot of credit for cleaning up his city.  The former Democrat, Independent and perhaps now still Republican became famous as the US Attorney who facilitated a long stay at the Grey Bar Hotel for John Gotti, the Teflon Don.  

 

For sure, crime is down, litter is in the trash bin, Times Square is no longer seedy, and so on.

 

But how much of this is because of Giuliani, the hero of 9/11?  We’re not sure.  Moreover, we’re not even sure how much credit should be given to Giuliani for his leadership during the 9/11 crisis, versus blame for locating critical infrastructure in the World Trade Centre–an obvious target.  Many of our cities have critical facilities in flood plains, with leaky roofs and even evacuation shelters that may be more dangerous than the emergency people will be fleeing.  But that’s another debate.

 

The debate for this column is whether Giuliani’s policy of “broken window” policing works.  This is a technique attributed to the Mayor by which police and even by-law enforcement officers look for little infractions and enforce and fix, in order to signal that there will be zero tolerance. It is said by some that this cuts down on bigger crimes.

 

Maybe.  Or even “No” according to Anil Anand, a career Canadian cop whose written a book called Mending Broken Fences Policing.  Anand’s suggests not sweating the details.  He calls this exercising “discretion” which is not done enough or discussed enough in policing.

 

Here’s my take on this.  

 

People, and society, need safety valves.  A safety valve lets off some steam from a pressure vessel when the pressure exceeds proscribed limits.  For individuals, this ranges from a brisk walk to an exhausting workout in the gym.  For society, it might range from the diversion of the Olympic Games to a big booze up during the Stanley Cup, Superbowl, World Series, or World Cup.

 

But how much is enough of a good thing?  I think the good thing ends with events like the 1955 Richard riot in Montreal.  The explosive Canadien hockey star hit a linesman, was suspended, and when league president Clarence Campbell attended the next game fans rioted causing $100,000 in damages, 37 injuries and 100 arrests.  It also ends with Vancouver’s 2011 riot after the Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup there.  Lessons from a previous 1994 riot didn’t prevent at least 140 injuries (1 critical), at least 4 stabbings, 9 police officers injured, and 101 arrests.  It took until 2015, four years after the riot, for police to finish their investigation and recommended charges against two suspects, for a total of 887 charges laid against 301 people.  It also ends with the 1989 Hillsborough soccer crush in England which killed 96 and injured 766.  At Hillsborough, everybody forgot what business to be in.  Stadium operators forgot they were in the family entertainment business and thought selling tickets was the main goal.  Police forgot they were in the public safety business and focussed on perimeter security to the point of allowing people to crush each other to death rather than put a foot on the field of play.  

 

So at what price does some combination of cops, society, judges and politicians forbid small infractions?  That’s what Anand’s book is about, and the answer is that we pay a price in a lack of cooperation with police and perhaps even higher crime.  

 

If I had my way, I’d use cameras to send people tickets for speeding, failing to stop, and burned out lights.  This might cut down on routine traffic stops that has lead to tragedy recently and in memory as far back as the Watts riots.    

People and Society Need Safety is republished from: http://www.allanbonner.com

Triage in the Emergency Planning Department

Many of us have been in the emergency room of a hospital with parents, kids or for ourselves.  We appreciate fast action and competence.  What wouldn’t be helpful is a discussion with the nurse about where that person went to school, the professional designation (BN, RN, BScN), where the nurse parks, what committee’s s/he’s on and so on.  We just want fast and good nursing, triage, diagnosis, referral and treatment.

Why then do our city emergency plans go into dozens of pages of irrelevant detail at the expense of plain advice for citizens who want to be a little safer and better prepared?  Do they hope no one really Googles their city emergency plan in order to find out how to plan for an emergency?

Many American cities list all the grants they can apply for.  But that’s a grant the city can apply for, not one the citizens can access.  Many have pages of demographic data and tourist information.  That’s good for responders to know, but I’m no safer knowing the average income in my neighbourhood, education attained by my neighbors and languages spoken at home.  Philadelphia lists all the planning committee meetings held.  Is a lot good or bad?  Are the names attendees who may be long gone relevant?  Pittsburgh, like many other cities, features a signed resolution of council from 9 years ago.  That’s so long ago, the signatories may have left office or be dead.   Most plans feature reference to the legislation under which the plan was written, pages of duties and responsibilities, but no real indication that the lists of tasks will actually get done.  If your city is in a crisis, you dial 911 or 311 or shout “Help!”  There won’t be any appetite to read lists of city employees to pick just the right one to call.

This is like the nurse telling us how the might deal with our health emergency, what all her other duties are, how she fits in to a potential crisis in the hospital, but not actually doing anything about the reason for your visit to the emergency room visit.

Do we really need to read Calgary’s pre-written emegency declaration?  Should we be on the lookout for a fake one?  What shall the citizens of Oklahoma City do with dozens of pages of meeting agendas, memos, power point presentations, inernal emails and survey questionnaires?  Are citizens supposed to role play what it might be like to be on the city payroll and read all this?  Do residents of Dallas sleep a little easier after looking at picturs of city staff?  Do we feel better after reading the list of Fort Worth, Texs projects which are awaiting federal and local funding?  Perhaps Forth Worth citizens are supposed to play a game predicting what will become a crisis while funding awaits.  Do we need to read Richmond, BCs multi page by laws?  For those who don’t work at city hall, what’s the point of reading countless pages of vunlerable and other facilities in San Jose’s plan?  When there’s a collapse of a facilty shall citizens go to the list and verify that collapse was predicted?  Or what’s the point of reading San Francisco’s strategic goals and planned implementaiton?  Either they should get on with these tasks or not.  These seem to be more a list of what won’t be addressed than what will.   Are we safer after turning over more than 3 dozen blank pages and missing maps in San Diego’s plan?

I can’t see how knowing the various roles and responsibilities in Fresno’s plan will help us either.

The blog post Triage in the Emergency Planning Department was originally seen on: http://www.allanbonner.com/