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Robert F. Lunney – A true passion for policing


April 5, 2016
By Tom Rataj

1160 words – MR

Robert F. Lunney – A true passion for policing

by Tom Rataj

It’s a challenge to write a truly complete retrospective in this limited space about an icon of Canadian policing. After his 44-year policing career, including 23 years as a police chief and a further 18-years as an international policing consultant, one could easily write volumes.

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Robert F. Lunney began his policing career with the RCMP in Winnipeg in 1953. Climbing up through the ranks, he retired in 1974 as a superintendent after working various roles in southern Ontario, the Yukon, Alberta and Ottawa.

That was just the first chapter of his policing career.

Lunney was hired in 1974 as the new Edmonton police chief and stayed in that city until 1987.

One might expect that after 34 years in policing, including a now relatively uncommon single 13 year tenure as chief, he would have hung up his badge for good.

Travelling back to his native Winnipeg, he was hired as the Commissioner of Protection, Parks and Culture, overseeing the police, fire and ambulance services, parks and recreation and the cultural grants departments from 1987 to 1990.

Not done with policing, he continued his journey east to the west Toronto area to become chief of Peel Regional Police (PRP) in 1990.

Lunney finally retired from public service in 1997 but that was not the end of his contributions to policing. For the next 18 years he travelled further afield, working as a policing consultant in the United States, Ireland, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Hong Kong and Jamaica. He also regularly contributed to during this time, acting as the command officer consultant. In 2012 he published his book

To really understand and appreciate Lunney’s career and contributions to policing, one has to dig deeper into his impressive legacy. He truly is a visionary leader, managing to really understand and clearly articulate important high-level thinking while still getting all the daily operational work done.

Reflecting on this in the Police Executive Research Forum’s (PERF) newsletter in 1995 he wrote: “I have a friend who claims all administrators can be divided into three classes – architects, builder and maintenance men. During my career, I have tried to be a bit of an architect but mostly I am, I hope, a builder. There is a real satisfaction in working with other to improve the quality of police service for the betterment of society.”

His status as a builder is well supported by a string of awards and recognition for numerous initiatives, many well ahead of their time. Although he was often the chief, he always ensured that he pushed his people into the spotlight so they too shared the credit.

Improving the quality of police services has been a lifelong concern. Lunney was the principal proponent of accreditation for police services, and was directly or indirectly involved in accrediting five Canadian police services, including Edmonton, Winnipeg and Peel.

He was PRP chief in 1995 when the service was awarded a Certificate of Merit by the Quality Institute (now Excellence Canada) and the Weber-Seavey Award for Quality in Law Enforcement (presented by IACP and Motorola). Lunney was the first Canadian to win the PERF Leadership Award for Innovative Police Practices.

Also during this time, he won the Herman Goldstein Award for Problem-Oriented Policing (sponsored by PERF) and a certificate of merit (in the quality government category) in the Canada Awards for Excellence competition sponsored by the Toronto-based National Quality Institute.

Some of these awards recognized innovative new programs and initiatives Lunney spearheaded that have become standards in policing in Canada and internationally. In 1991 while leading PRP he introduced a Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED) program, as well as a comprehensive child abuse, sexual assault and domestic violence initiative.

Always willing to share his insights and vision he was the Canadian representative on the executive committee of the IACP in April 1996 and president of the CACP for 1984/1985.

Much of his insight and vision is the stuff many police officers only learn through trial and error in the later parts of their careers, and in hindsight wish they had understood and implemented in their early days.

“From the moment of accepting the oath of office,” he wrote in the April 2013 edition of “every act performed, every decision made, every personal conclusion filed away composes the sum of individual worthiness, constitutes the reputation as a person and a police officer, and ultimately is enfolded in personal character.”

Interestingly with all the current bad press and public anti-police rhetoric, including the Black Lives Matters movement, his insight and excellent advice on the matter goes back to the Dec. 1999 issue of

“Probity, integrity, and accountability are half the accounting. The second half is fair treatment and respect for the humanity of all persons and considerate, measured judgment in the application of powers of arrest, search and seizure and the use of force. When you can control the consequences by tempering your own behaviour, the choice seems obvious.”

So much of the current bad press and anti-police sentiment stems directly from the failure to abide by this kind of thinking – and with video cameras now everywhere, failures are easily documented for all to see.

“The public expects the police to set high standards of truthfulness and honour,” Lunney noted, again in the Dec. 1999 issue, “while demonstrating a devotion to duty. They like to see evidence of qualities they can respect and admire. They also expect that the police will be responsible and accountable in their use of the powers and authorities provided by law. Nothing could disaffect the public more than persistent evidence of abuse or misuse of authority.”

He was well ahead of the curve on another current hot topic – police budgets. In the year that the Toronto Police Service budget exceeded the $1 billion mark for the first time, Lunney wrote, again in (June/July 1998 issue):

“If policing is to survive as a full-service public institution of government, methods must be found to reduce the costs of labour. The challenge of delivering on demands for economy and efficiency must be met on its own terms.”

From his final post in March 2016, on his “Parting Shots” web site (http://www.rla-robertlunneyassociates.com), he talks about the governance of the economics of policing.

“A combination of organizational reform and efficiency measures is surely within the capabilities of police leadership everywhere. A failure to respond will trigger intervention certain to result in remedies devised by those with less knowledge and appreciation of police imperatives. Mistakes and misunderstandings are sure to happen.”

PERF President and NYPD Commissioner William Bratton summed up Lunney’s career very succinctly.

“Chief Lunney has shown a consistent, career-long interest in improving policing by effectively using new technology, working side-by-side with community residents and dealing with tough issues. He has proven himself to be a true leader in policing.”