Friday, August 28, 2009

Taking My Ticket To Ride

As part of one of the committees that I sit on, I had the opportunity to participate in a ‘ride-along’ with the Hamilton Police Service. I did so on a Friday night 7pm to 7am shift recently. I hope you enjoy my synopsis of the evening.

My partner for the evening was P.C. Maddick, a fourth year constable with the Hamilton Police Services, one of 6 female officers on this particular shift, and also one of the senior officers that evening. One of the first observations that I noted was that for each of the calls we attended with other officers, there was a brief conversation beforehand to establish roles and responsibilities for each of the officers attending. They also ran background checks on all of the calls, to ensure their safety and to understand the possibilities of what could transpire during the call.
Our evening together started off slow, cruising the streets running license plates, walking about the area parks, and ensuring that we were visible to the community we were patrolling. This actually turned out to be a good thing, because it allowed for the two of us to get to know each other and establish a comfort level, which was vitally important, as Maddick was responsible for my safety. She not only had to watch out for her safety on the job, but now she had a civilian along for the ride, whom she was responsible to ensure that I returned in the same condition as I started the shift.

The first calls of the evening were of the lower priority type: custodial complaints, noise concerns, swimmers in a closed public pool…generally the type wherein warnings were issued after it was ascertained that no prior convictions or warrants were on record for the individuals in question. We dealt with punk-ass kids who felt they were above the law, and not required to respect those in authority. It will be very interesting to see where these folks will end up as they get older.
My first adrenaline rush came on a call that took us to the rural area of Hamilton. We were responding to a noise complaint, but there was a history between the complainant and the accused. Upon further investigation before attending the call, the accused had a prior history with the police. So here we are, myself and two other officers, attending a call at a rural location in the dead of the night…and there are barking dogs on site…we can’t see them clearly, but we know they’re present. Now, I am not a fan of dogs on farms, I’ve had one too many negative experiences with farm dogs, so my affliction to them is warranted. After the accused assured us that the dogs were secure, a heated conversation is had between the officers and the accused. I was amazed at the calmness of the officers, always in control, and demonstrating preparedness if the chat did not go as intended. As they finished the conversation and headed back to the cars, we were alerted that the dogs were no longer secure. I ran as fast as I could to the car, and dove in the passenger seat, closed the door and watched with great amazement as the officers attending quickly assessed their options without panicking (as I had just done!). The dogs were secured by their owners, and off we were to another call. I was quietly checking my pants to ensure that they were still clean!!

Our last call of the night involved a neighbourhood dispute which had turned into a bit of a fisticuff between some of the residents and guests. The call was attended by several officers, including the sergeant, who oversaw those attending to ensure that everyone had a role in obtaining information as to what had happened. There was clear frustration among the officers in attendance, as obtaining information as to what had happened was hampered by drunken witnesses, and feuding neighbours who were visibly upset and offered subjective accounts of what had happened, versus objective observations. Calls of this nature are time consuming, and can cause grief for others looking for quicker responses for their concerns, and grief for those at the call, as closure is a long ways off.

Overall, my experience of the night was enlightening, and I gained new found respect for those officers who work the beat. I was impressed with how they approached each call, regardless of the priority assigned to the call. And, on a personal note, because I was partnered with a female officer, I gained a new sense of some of the additional obstacles that they face, as well as an increased appreciation of their value on the Force. Given some of the obstinate individuals we had the pleasure of dealing with; their presence alone immediately defused some of the tensions, as their appeared to be a temperance on the male’s part to be overly aggressive. I could feel the aggression kick in when they wanted to know who I was…let’s just say, I made sure I stood in the background as much as possible!

I would like to thank the Hamilton Police Services, Superintendent Ken Bond, and Sergeant Dave Hennick for the opportunity to participate in the ‘ride-along’. And most of all, PC Mallory Maddick for putting up with this shadow on her Friday night shift.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Cigerette Smoking in Public Spaces

I really thought that this subject was no longer a 'hot topic', that is until yesterday when I visited a couple of restaurants in the Burlington area and got an earful about the infringement of rights forced upon the owners with respects to no smoking in their establishments.

The Ontario Government recently passed legislation banning smoking within public enclosed spaces, whether they are partially enclosed or fully enclosed. Contained within there breifing on the law, they state that their "commitment to reduce tobacco consumption by 20% before the end of 2007 was achieved ahead of schedule." In addition, "Between 2003 and 2006, there was a 31.8 per cent decline in tobacco consumption indicating that approximately 4.6 billion fewer cigarettes were sold."

I'm not exactly sure how they measure their statistics, but according to Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada, their numbers seem to contradict the above information. Tax Revenues from Tobacco Sales from 1999 to 2008 show a completely different story. According to the figures presented, the 3-year period immediately preceding 2003 shows a combined revenue of $2,379,380,568 (2000-2001 to 2002-2003 Figures are shown in combined years versus calendar years.) Conversely, for the same time frame (2003-2004 to 2005-2006) $4,182,000,000 of tax revenue was collected, an increase of over 40%.

Continued efforts are being made on almost every governmental level to reduce smoking in places beyond the current Provincial legislation. Everything from cars, to apartments, to venues regardless of enclosure restrictions. The intent is to protect those who are either sensitive to second-hand smoke, or as a measure to reduce the impact of smoking related illnesses on our health care system. All in all, there is no argument against legislative protectionism on those who choose not to smoke or be around those who choose to smoke. The question arises on those who do choose to smoke, and those who wish to provide a place to enjoy that choice.

No one will argue that smoking is detrimental to one's health. Yet, the Government condones smoking through their administration of taxing the sales of tobacco products. Understanding that measures are required to restrict the availability and promotion of tobacco products to minors, continued efforts must be maintained to ensure that this doesn't stop short of its intended audience.

Currently the Government monitors and creates measures with respects to the sale and consumption of alcohol. Why then can't the Government create similar measures for the sale and consumption of tobacco? Ideally, tobacco products shouldn't be available for sale in convenience stores and gas stations. For the same reasons that alcohol isn't available (in Ontario anyway)...for the argument of protecting youth from accessing the product in question. No one under 19 is allowed to purchase tobacco products, so let's put that product in places where one has to be 19 to enter. Now let's go one step further...allow these establishments to become 'smoking' or 'non-smoking' only. Forget trying to split the seating arrangements to 'smoking' or 'non-smoking', because we know this doesn't work for those who don't smoke.

With the restriction of the availability of tobacco products for purchase, you can bet that the number of 'smoking' only establishments will be limited, and those who enter will be above the age of 19, thereby restricting the purchase of tobacco products by minors. Today, tax revenues from tobacco sales are close to $1,000,000,000 which would lead one to wonder that if those tax revenues were no longer feeding government programs, what would we be willing to cut from our service programs.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Advocating for Better Customer Service

The following story should have been a no-brainer for the folks at FIDO, instead it became a test of patience and perseverence for a client. This is a true story.

The client has been with FIDO since 1995 and has 3 phone lines, each under a different term contract expirying at various times. As a matter of interest, the client used to have a fourth line, but transferred ownership of that line to his son, who committed to a new contract with FIDO. The client has a good rating with FIDO, and rarely calls with concerns over service issues. His credit rating is rated 'low', as he pays his bills within the perscribed timeframe. On average, his monthly bill is approximately $300 per month for the 3 lines.

Now that you have the background on the client, we'll approach the situation: When the introduction of the iPhones commenced a little over a year ago, the client requested an upgrade on one of his lines to the iPhone. He also took the $30/month 6-GIG data package add-on to his existing phone contract. FIDO obliged his request without objection. At that time, he also inquired whether one of the other lines could also receive the iPhone upgrade, and he was advised that he would have to wait until June 2009, which he excepted.

This year, Apple introduced the 'new' iPhone with enhanced features not included on the first version. Our client contacted FIDO in July requesting the upgrade to the line previously mentioned that needed to wait until June to upgrade. He was denied the upgrade due to an internal policy change which was implemented on February 3rd, 2009 restricting any contract renewals prior to 6-months from expiry of existing contract term. This was a 'no exceptions' policy direction. Which would mean that our client who still had 11 months remaining on his contract with FIDO (for this particular line) would not be able to upgrade to the iPhone (at the reduced price for the phone) until February 2010.

In a conversation with the FIDO Supervisor, he was told his only two options would be to purchase the iPhone at full cost, or wait until February 2010 (& hope that FIDO was still offering the iPhone at that time.) What baffled our client the most, was that the policy was not put in place for the customer, but rather for FIDO. As explained to him, the reason for the policy was that FIDO had experienced a number of complaints from the first launching of the iPhone from clients who were not pleased with the extended contract terms applied to their contract when they upgraded to the iPhone. So as a means of dealing with this communication concern, FIDO chose to place all of their customers into one pile...

Not satisfied with the explanation for the decline, our client then took the next step of contacting senior management at FIDO requesting further explanation to the policy. Within a week, FIDO contacted the client explaning that while they do have the 'no exceptions' policy, there was a reason that they have humans answering the phone and not computers..."to allow for intelligent decisions to be made." The senior staffer who contacted our client resolved the concern, and he now is the proud owner another iPhone (this one is white).

The moral of the story here is to approach obstacles in life with logic, not emotion. At no time during my clients interaction with FIDO did he use profanity, make virulent statements, generalize or trivialize, or get personal. To FIDO's credit, neither did they. They remained logical and focussed on the policy before them...what was required was a bridge to be constructed between a customer and a retailer to solve a situation which could have had dire results if not corrected. The only way that bridge gets constructed is to advocate for what you believe in, and leave your personal opinions at the door. Get the facts first. Understand them second. Look for a solution (if there really is one) third. Make sure you're speaking with the right person fourth. And, finally make sure you thank them for taking the time.