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Jakob Bjarnason Ceremony 5-10-17 13A

Sometimes all you have to do is ask.

It helps when you ask someone with the ability to find an ideal solution.

Last summer I’d finally sat down to read the Spring issue of the Nordic Heritage Museum’s Nordic Kultur magazine. Long a fan of this museum, I’d always been intrigued by one of their displays about an early 20th century Ballard police officer named Jakob Bjarnason.

Something about his eyes and slight smile always made me pause. There was something… whimsical and honest in those windows to the soul. Something that made me think I would have liked to have known him.

Enter page 42: Big Jake Bjarnason: The Gentle Giant by Friðrik Þór Guðmundsson. This well-written article by a relative of Bjarnason’s told the story of a respected local cop who had immigrated from Iceland. He actively worked to honor his native culture and heritage while working and helping raise his daughter’s sister. Big Jake also had a wonderful sense of humor.

Standing at well over seven feet tall, Bjarnason was an imposing presence with a heart to match. When he died suddenly in 1927, 2000 people attended his funeral. That speaks volumes. Unfortunately, his grave was marked with a small temporary marker that, local history buff John Haggem told me, cost a dollar. Haggem and others also found that the birth date listed on the marker was off by a decade.

Guðmundsson’s piece said that the marker is now covered by grass. When I read that, I got out of my chair, slapped down the magazine, and said, “That isn’t right.” It isn’t. No one should be forgotten. Especially not someone who dedicated their life to service and family. So I added “get Jake a proper marker” to my never-ending historical to-do list.

Later in the year, I contacted the Nordic Heritage Museum and Seattle Metropolitan Police Museum, not knowing that others, including John Heggem, had the same idea. I asked how we could get Big Jake a proper marker. Little did I know that Officer Jim Ritter, who heads the police museum, would find an even better answer than I could have envisioned.

In short order, Officer Ritter designed a grave marker that honored Bjarnason’s service to both the Ballard and Seattle Police Departments. For those outside of the Seattle area, Ballard was its own entity until May 29th, 1907 when it was absorbed by the City of Seattle. Those against annexation flew their flags at half-mast that day. 110 years later, some of us locals still sport “Free Ballard” bumper stickers.

Quiring Monuments of Seattle donated their services to make the marker come alive. Evergreen Washelli, the Nordic Heritage Museum, the Icelandic Club of Greater Seattle, and the Washington State Archives became involved. I jokingly nicknamed this coalition Team Jakob (nod to the silly Edward vs. Jacob meme of years past).

Friðrik Þór Guðmundsson poured more heart, soul, and research into this effort. David Johnson of the Icelandic Club had me traipsing around the Crown Hill Cemetery looking for examples of 1920s Icelandic grave markers (before I knew Ritter had designed a fitting tribute). Our fabulous Washington State Archivist Steve Excell and his “cold cases don’t stand a chance” genealogy expert Dr. Jewell Lorenz Dunn focused on demolishing a brick wall that had prevented investigative journalist Guðmundsson from finding any of Big Jake’s sister’s offspring.

I and others had visited Jakob’s grave site in the cemetery. It took me a while to find his marker mid-winter as it was covered with debris again. Once found, I noted that his resting place above the Seagull Pond had a direct view of Home Depot.

I also had to get out a measuring tape because I couldn’t fathom how a man who was 7’4″ could have been buried in that spot without using his western neighbor’s head as a footrest. But once Evergreen Washelli explained it was clear that there was enough room. One thing I remain partially stymied by is finding an inside out pair of Carhartt pants nearby, but cemeteries deal with the strangest things.

In the meantime, Ritter was tapping his media contacts and setting up a day to remember. The talented Arnfridur Sigurdardottir became involved as the team’s (other) Icelandic language specialist. As things moved along, it became apparent that Evergreen Washelli, Quiring, and Officer Ritter were cooking up something special.

On April 5th, KING 5 broke the story Ballard’s ‘Big Jake’ receives overdue recognition. You can read John Heggem’s letter there. KING 5 has done a great job covering this process yet one error appeared in this account and the most recent. May 10th is Big Jake’s birthday, not the anniversary of his death. He passed away 90 years ago on October 6th.

On April 12th, the Washington State Archives disclosed that they had located living descendants of Gudridur Bjarnadottir, later known as Grace Ryan Bell, Bjarnason’s sister. All this time the relevant genealogy records on the web had been tied to a wrong person. These relatives were surprised to find out they were a part of this story and made plans to attend the May 10th ceremony at which the new marker would be dedicated.

As someone who believes that bagpipes should be part of every major life event, be it childbirth, a new car purchase, or a Bar Mitzvah, I hesitated to suggest having pipers present since Iceland seems to be the only country on earth without a history of bagpipes. I come from generations of public servants and have that background myself so it’s not a party without the pipes.

I was delighted to learn that Ritter had arranged for the Seattle Police Department Honor Guard and pipes and drums to be present. Score! This man thinks of everything. He also asked Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole to officiate. Guðmundsson, in the meantime, had contacted his newly found relatives and Team Jakob (okay, only I called it that) began inviting others.

One of the invitations went to the people who currently reside in Jakob’s home. Friðrik had shared Jakob’s registration papers from World War I and I realized the address was still valid. As a history buff, I’m used to making such cold calls and following up with supporting documentation, so I contacted the male resident. I asked if a 7’4″ man could have maneuvered well in their home. He said he’s tall and he’s never had a problem. I still wonder if Jakob had to duck through every doorway. Sadly, this neighborhood could be rezoned, which means yet another historic Ballard home could be lost to soulless boxlike condos.

Wednesday was May 10th, which would have been Big Jake’s 143rd birthday. Despite having experienced the wettest six month stretch in Seattle history with freak thunderstorms the week prior, Wednesday was a stunning sunny 70 degree day. Mother Nature was on her best behavior, bathing that morning in an almost magical glow.

At 11 A.M., Wednesday, May 10th, 2017, a crowd gathered to give Jakob Bjarnason, the Gentle Giant, the rest of his funeral, this time with a marker designed to last.

Enter the Seattle Police Pipes and Drums.

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Here Friðrik Þór Guðmundsson, who started it all and flew out from Iceland for the event, meets cousin Daniel Bell’s family for the first time. It was a joyous occasion that KING 5 captured some great video of. Bell’s family brought photos of relatives that Guðmundsson immediately recognized.

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A view of the venue before the ceremony. Evergreen Washelli always puts on classy events and donated their time and services to honor Bjarnason this day.

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The Seattle Police Honor Guard added a reverent and respectful air to the ceremony.

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While some malign bagpipes as the secret behind crop circles, there are few sounds more glorious when you are celebrating a life. Or otherwise. It stirs the blood.

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Officer Jim Ritter prepares to speak.

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Ritter pointed out that Jakob Bjarnason was practicing community-oriented policing long before it was cool. He knew his community, he was involved in his community, and his community respected him for it.

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Friðrik and Daniel, together at last, listen to Ritter speak about their uncle. One of the men who made this possible, John Heggem, is in the foreground. I later learned that John’s mother and other relatives are buried just a hop, skip, and a jump from Big Jake. For Jake, that could be just a couple of strides.

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Chief Kathleen O’Toole addresses the audience.

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Friðrik’s turn. He gave a rousing speech about his Uncle Jakob, pronouncing his name Yah-cawb as the Icelanders say.

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The man of the hour, Jakob Bjarnason himself. The Seattle Metropolitan Police Museum owns this bust of Big Jake. Evidently the matching set of Jake’s hands is missing. Anyone have a couple of giant plaster hands in their attic?

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It’s possible that Bjarnason’s original funeral could have looked very much like this.

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Jakob at the microphones. Having “him” there added depth to the celebration of his life. It already felt like he was looking down upon this smiling and “his” presence made that more real.

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Chief Kathleen O’Toole and Officer Ritter present Friðrik and Daniel with an American flag.

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Friðrik explained that because Daniel is more closely related to Jakob, he would offer the flag to him.

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The moment arrives… the Evergreen Washelli crew backed their tractor into position to place the permanent marker.

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Jakob’s bust watches the marker’s placement from the podium.

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Friðrik and Daniel peel back the protective plastic to reveal Quiring’s amazing craftsmanship.

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The Honor Guard looks on.

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Jakob appears to admire the handiwork.

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One of these officers said he had served the City of Seattle for 47 years!

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Not only did Arnfridur Sigurdardottir read a poem in Icelandic written by Jakob’s neighbor, but local Icelanders attended as well.

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This is what teamwork looks like. Well done, Seattle PD and associates.

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Bonus: Ritter drove an original 1970 Plymouth Seattle Police cruiser to the event. Some of us got a kick out of discussing the particulars and asking him to pop the hood later. Evidently the car was located out of state and brought back to Seattle.

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Here it is… the culmination of months of hard work. Now visitors will know who Officer Bjarnason is. When you live a life of honest service, people will remember you nearly a century after you die. And beyond.

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Post-ceremony, Friðrik gives another interview in this idyllic setting.

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Evergreen Washelli had clear signage everywhere including on the way to the indoor reception.

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Cool cake! The inside was marbled with what appeared to be several different flavors. Thank you again to Evergreen Washelli for hosting this.

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Daniel is holding a copy of the essay Jakob wrote just before dying courtesy of the Nordic Heritage Museum. It was explained that Jakob was a contributor to the local Icelandic journal and was expounding upon his belief that Leif Erikson was Icelandic, not Norwegian.

Feeling unwell, he went into the bathroom to shave, probably to prepare for a doctor visit. He collapsed and died of heart trouble. He was only 53 years old.

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The Gentle Giant’s birthday ride. One of his relatives, looking in the window, quipped, “He can’t possibly be 7’4″!”

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And so the festivities ended. Generous donations and Team Captain Jim Ritter made this a day to remember. Please check out KING 5’s feature Descendants travel far and wide to honor legendary Seattle police officer.

Iceland

Translation:

I pray I may rest
where the priests and the best
of farmers have trod,
with faith in God
and themselves strong as stone —
as strong as my own! —
and where life flows bright
amid bounties of light.

-Icelandic poet Jónas Hallgrímsson, Home

Happy Birthday Big Jake. You’ve certainly given those who’ve come after you some mighty big shoes to fill.

Jakob Bjarnason Ceremony 5-10-17 34

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Update: Friday, May 12th. We were having to pack up our desks at work for a move. I pulled a pair of seldom-used work gloves out of my bottom filing cabinet drawer and gasped when I saw what they said.

You’re welcome.

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*************************************************************************************Disclaimer: This is a personal, nonprofit blog and it is not endorsed by any participants in this project or parties in this story. I do hope that the museums and organizations mentioned will benefit from their roles in this amazing project. 

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©2017 H. Hiatt/wildninjablog.com. All articles/posts on this blog are copyrighted original material that may not be reproduced in part or whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from H. Hiatt/wildninjablog.com.

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Pet Tracker

Unfortunately, when a pet goes missing, the perception that it’s a bona fide family member doesn’t hold up. When a child disappears, the community throws all its resources into bringing him or her safely home. When a beloved dog or cat disappears, it’s just that: LOST DOG, two words on a poster that most people won’t even notice.

Somebody ought to train a search dog to find lost pets, I thought.

Guess which somebody it turned out to be . . .

-Kat Albrecht, Pet Tracker: The Amazing Story of Rachel the K-9 Pet Detective

Do you love animals? Are you a dog parent/owner? Do you work in the criminal justice or psychology fields? Have you ever wondered what your dog or cat is truly capable of? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you are among the many who will be blessed by this fascinating foray into the life of a woman whose dogged determination– pun intended– led her to a career as a pet detective.

Kat Albrecht is one woman you should never say “that can’t be done” to. Years ago I became aware of Kat’s work finding missing pets and have referred concerned pet owners to her Missing Pet Partnership website and Pet Detective Blog. Kat offers Lost Pet Recovery training on her website at Katalbrecht.com and has an informative Facebook page.

Additionally, Kat’s Mercy Paws ministry trains teens in her field of expertise and helps them discover their life’s purpose through service and love for God’s creatures. Her journey from disillusioned dispatcher to passionate police officer to preeminent pet detective can and should inspire others to fight for their dreams. A major theme in Pet Tracker is finding your true calling and leaving behind the soul-sucking jobs that cage your talents and authentic self.

So how does a woman named Kat become an expert on search dogs? Kat began her career as a law enforcement employee in the not too distant past. Simply by virtue of her gender she ran smack into the brick wall of sexism so prominent in policing at the time (and still present in all too many agencies today). As a young, female go-getter, the male-dominated culture in her agency found her work ethic, innovative methods, and intelligence threatening. She was told to do menial “female” tasks and harassed, like when trying to build rapport with victims and suspects. Kat was forced to confront pervasive stereotypes and bias in the policing profession as she worked hard to show that she was not only a capable cop, but one with particular gifts.

On this point, as a former civilian law enforcement employee, I identify with Kat’s struggles. I joined policing later that same decade and was appalled that female employees, particularly civilian ones, were more highly regarded when they acted perky, giggled a lot, and made coffee, in my words at the time. Being sexually available to certain figures was sure to score major prom queen points and a prominent place on the popularity ladder as well.

I also remember the department-wide shock wave caused when I used the words “crappy report writing” about an officer’s narrative and it was overheard; you’d think I’d threatened the life of the president. It became clear that as a female– and a civilian– I was stepping outside my tiny culturally-defined box. They could say it, but I didn’t have the same freedoms. I learned, as Kat did, that being an intelligent female who challenges the status quo by trying to improve processes and procedures was often met with hate and derision. This was especially true for Kat as a sworn police officer because she was working in a traditionally male role alongside men who didn’t want her there.

Furthermore, Kat stepped WAY out of her box when she suggested that her agency utilize trained search dogs for their work. Kat wanted to be a K9 officer but again– gasp– she was female, and police dogs weren’t trained to perform the tasks she had started teaching her own dogs to do. Her department told her not to use a trained bloodhound to search for a missing girl. Even in a volunteer capacity, police departments were not receptive to the idea of using trained dogs to save lives, enhance public safety, and recover victims. Full-fledged Officer Albrecht was actually told to go work elsewhere if she wanted to work with a bloodhound!

This barrier is also familiar to me– law enforcement agencies sometimes feel threatened by outside help. They might believe they’ll do better without a pet detective or forensic psychologist or behavioral expert even though cops don’t usually have such training. Some also tend to do things the way they’ve always been done rather than act in the best interest of the public they’re sworn to protect. While I know many open-minded, intelligent, and creative minds in the business, there are also those, particularly those in charge, who are set in their ways and feel that change undermines their authority. They may seem attempts at positive change as insubordination or subversion.

In retrospect, Kat realized that “my passion for working search dogs was viewed as arrogance.” She just wanted to help. So she began to plan how she could develop her passion for working with her dogs instead of how to adapt to a police department that was never going to let her– or her dogs– do what they were best at. The time and effort she put into discovering her dogs’ individual gifts– aided by a very gifted and patient cat– is nothing short of remarkable.

With her dogs at her side she took what she learned in law enforcement and translated that into pet detective work– while continuing her career as a law enforcement officer at another agency who welcomed their skills (having had people at the same agency, I appreciate its open-mindedness). This much-needed positive change came about as she renewed her relationship with God and started seeking His way instead of her own. Woven into Pet Tracker is the discipline of learning to hear from God and trusting Him. As Kat can attest to, even when your own plans seem perfect, He sometimes has a better way. And literally stop her in her tracks a couple of times He did.

It was when her own police bloodhound went missing that Kat realized just how much of a need there is for canines trained to find pets. A volunteer dog located her beloved partner but that dog was one of very few conditioned to do so. As she points out, police dogs are trained to ignore other animals, not find them, so the average K9 officer can’t do this. She noted striking similarities between lost people and lost pet cases and built upon that, founding the National Center for Missing Pets on the way. Then life threw her another curve ball with a life-changing freak injury suffered as a cop but even then she found ways to continue and expand her mission.

Besides being a refreshingly honest look at the barriers she had to break in policing in order to use dogs in this line of work, Pet Tracker offers a very realistic look at certain dog breeds and also delves into the priceless value of rescue pets. It gives proper credit to the uniqueness of each dog and the depths of their intelligence. I was fascinated to learn how Kat determines what makes a good search dog and allows the dog’s natural gifts determine what type of search dog they will be. Like people, they can be trained for different purposes. As she won over law enforcement officials with her methods and victories, one detective noted, “I’ve yet to see a police dog around here that could find a simple hole in the ground… but your dog has made a believer out of me.”

Pet Tracker also runs the gamut of emotions and it details Kat’s relationships with her original search dogs and feline assistants including their aging and loss. I felt the latter deeply because I read the book less than a week before unexpectedly losing my own copilot of 15 years, my faithful hound who went through hell and back with me and his kitties. Kat’s descriptions of hound dog behavior and the endearing quirks they can develop rang true. If you’ve ever had a hound, you know that they will follow their nose even if it leads to pronounced peril or it means dragging you along behind them. They follow their noses, point blank, period.

There are other laugh out loud funny moments in Pet Tracker like when you meet characters such as Barry the Boa Constrictor and Bret the Bearded Dragon, a real life rock star. There are also invaluable tips on how to properly search for missing pets. I am convinced that many feline lives could be saved if shelter workers understood how lost cats behave and shared that information with the public. It’s from Kat’s blog that I learned how cats, when sick or injured, usually hide nearby in familiar places, even inside the house they’re thought to have escaped from. She also offers wonderful pointers about the types of posters you should create when looking for a lost pet and how to conduct outreach. I feel even more strongly that cats should not be allowed to roam freely outside after reading this, for their own sake as well as that of other pets and wildlife.

Our nation euthanizes millions of adoptable pets each year because no one claims or adopts them. This is abhorrent. I’m sickened by thinking of how terrified those innocent, loving dogs, cats, rabbits, and other pets are when placed in a stark gas chamber to die. Others are given lethal injections like serial killers just because their owner didn’t properly contain them, come looking for them, abandoned them, or cared enough to spay and neuter, creating thousands more like them. Or because they sat in a cage for a few days with people passing by and not giving them a second thought. This is particularly true for older pets, who are, ironically, usually house trained and more calm and disciplined than puppies and kittens. Every year King County, where Seattle is, puts several thousand adoptable pets to death. And this in a county of more than two million people.

Kat emphasized the importance of finding missing pets and the horrific outcomes for many of them:

Animal shelters, for example, would hold a “stray” dog or cat for seventy-two hours, after which time they either adopted the animal out to a new family or destroyed it. So if a pet owner was not able to get to the shelter within seventy-two hours, their chances of a happy reunion were slim to none. The national “Return to Owner” (RTO) rate for lost dogs reclaimed by their families at animal shelters was sixteen percent. For cats, the rate is much worse—just two percent of stray cats held at shelters have someone show up to reclaim them.

Ultimately Pet Tracker was many things to me:

-An honest look at policing and the challenges women, canines, and innovators face in that profession

-A deeply emotional story about the bonds between pets and their people

-A journey through Kat’s relationships with her own four-legged family members

-The development of each pet’s individual gifts and traits

-A testimony to the power of perseverance and going forward no matter what the odds

-An eye-opening look into the importance of search dogs and their various functions

-The importance of volunteer search dog handlers (the next one could be you!)

-A call to treat our pets and other animals humanely and lovingly

-An insider’s view of missing people and pet cases

-A sobering look at the realities of shelter pets and the fate of many missing or abandoned animals

Pet Tracker is available on Amazon and as an ebook. More information about Pet Tracker and her training manual Dog Detectives are available on the Books page of her blog.

Thank you, Kat Albrecht, and your amazing animals, for never giving up and making the world a brighter and safer place for so many people and their furry loved ones. I highly encourage others to become familiar with Kat’s work and to share her knowledge and expertise liberally.

Who knows? You might be the next great pet detective, and it’s clear that those skills are sorely needed.

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Nobody can fully understand the meaning of love unless he’s owned a dog. He can show you more honest affection with a flick of his tail than a man can gather through a lifetime of handshakes. -Gene Hill

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©2015 H. Hiatt/wildninjablog.com. All articles/posts on this blog are copyrighted original material that may not be reproduced in part or whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from H. Hiatt/wildninjablog.com.

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Federal Way Prayer Rally 12-31-14 3

Tonight in Seattle, a group claiming to be against police brutality will be demonstrating near the New Year’s events at the Space Needle. Their planned activities will include a “die-in.” Hopefully this will not become a security issue since the festivities will be packed and in Seattle, anarchists and others mad at the world tend to show up to these things.

Contrast this with what’s been going on this week in Federal Way, Washington. On Monday, a group of 25 pastors met with police administrators at Federal Way City Hall to foster unity in the community. With all of the violence against police officers lately, the leadership of local churches felt that it was time to show them support as well as take steps towards healing the rifts in our society.

Today at 2 P.M., a group of pastors, police officers, and citizens met in the lobby of City Hall to hear guest speakers and pray for our civil servants, governing officials, children and young adults, all hurting people, our community, and reconciliation. Those present included Dr. Andre Sims, Pastors Gary Wiens, Mitchell Vann, Dave Norcross, David Aaron Johnson, Jeff MacLurg, Gordon Banks, and Jon McIntosh, Deputy Police Chief Kyle Sumpter, and Police Chief Andy Hwang, who gave the closing remarks. The event concluded with all present reciting the Lord’s Prayer (which, as one man near me pointed out, was the King James version, likely the version we adults learned in Sunday School long ago).

This event appears to have been coordinated through the International House of Prayer Northwest. The invitation to this event on their website reads:

Join us in Praying for Our Community

A call is going out to Christians across the nation to gather at your local police stations on December 31st from 2-3pm, and pray for peace and protection in our communities during New Year’s Eve. We are calling on the people of God to cry out to the Lord for mercy to our communities with restoration, and to honor and protect those who serve with law enforcement. In light of the turmoil in our nation, and the increased tension between citizens and the police, we believe it would be a significant and important place for us to stand as the Body of Christ, blessing the people of our cities and those who serve our community.

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Let’s hope this idea spreads. It’s powerful to see church leaders spearheading positive change in this community and Christians making a public statement about how the relationship between police and the community should be. I, for one, have very strong and well-founded feelings about police ethics and accountability, but I also have a fierce loyalty to certain people within the profession, so like to show support when I can.

It’s no secret that I am a survivor of police officer-involved domestic violence and was put through the wringer at my own civilian law enforcement job when I stood up to a corrupt supervisor (among other things). I have some powerful reasons not to like the police, including having my life repeatedly threatened by a cop. I earned my M.A. in forensic psychology in large part to focus on issues within the law enforcement profession.

But it is partially because of decent and objective people in policing that I’m still here. I have friends and family in police work as well, and am a staunch supporter of some former and current coworkers. So I understand the fury and frustration over some current issues in policing well; I also know what a tough job being a cop can be and the dangers they face. I can see a lot of this from both sides and therefore am especially passionate about opening dialogues between the police and the public for the benefit of both.

How about facilitating a meeting between your local police department and church leadership or community group? Like today’s event in Federal Way, it’s an opportunity to demonstrate that we care about the lives of law enforcement officers and a chance to partner with them to better our world.

This was a brilliant idea, I enjoyed standing in prayer with my brothers and sisters in Christ, including those in uniform, and hope this serves as a model for those trying to make change right now. Holding signs accusing cops of murder when they’ve acted to defend their own lives and others’ lives is shallow and divisive. Actually meeting with the police in an atmosphere of peace and goodwill is productive and might even save lives.

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Thank you to Gary Wiens for the details and Chiefs Hwang and Sumpter for their ongoing support of community groups promoting unity, safety, and freedom. 

If you have a loved one in law enforcement, join me in praying Psalm 91 over them. I’m not about formulaic or repetitive prayers, but this Psalm about says it all. 

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In the moral sphere, every act of justice or charity involves putting ourselves in the other person’s place and thus transcending our own competitive particularity. –C.S. Lewis

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©2014 H. Hiatt/wildninjablog.com. All articles/posts on this blog are copyrighted original material that may not be reproduced in part or whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from H. Hiatt/wildninjablog.com.

 

 

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Roz

When was the last time you walked into a business and wanted to go back because of the generic, cardboard treatment you received at the hands of an emotionless drone? Probably never, right?

Over the years I’ve pondered what, exactly, constitutes professional behavior. We see unprofessional behavior all the time– laziness, swearing, bullying, people who act like their jobs are all about them… the list could be endless. But what, in your mind, causes you to say, “wow, that person was very professional?”

During my first full-time job back in the day I was introduced to business speak. I was listening to a female supervisor banter with some male business guests and felt incredibly awkward about the exchange. But the exchange was, by some standards, professional. It sounded like all parties in the conversation were reading lines from a Dale Carnegie seminar or the latest trendy book on sales that everyone bought because they knew someone else who bought it.

“It is interesting to observe your operations.”

(polite laughter, “a ha ha ha”)

“We’re about improving the bottom line.”

(“Yes, yes, a ha ha ha.”)

“We must improve our paradigm and shift our resources to the bifurcated capital establishment.”

(“Great, a ha ha ha.” Generic smiles and emphatic nodding. This could have been anybody talking to anybody.)

My young mind thought, “that’s how people do business?” These people did not sound like they were talking to other human beings; it was more like they were trading superficial niceties with fancy, fashionable labels, accomplishing…? The stroking of an ego? Future opportunities to throw around more ’90s phrases?

Anyone who knows me well is aware that I don’t do superficial. If someone walks up to me and politely sneers, “hiiiii, how are yooooouuu?” they should be expecting an honest answer. While on the phone, as a public servant, I’m not going to launch into a detailed description of my neighbor’s mishap with his Nutri Ninja the night before, I still cringe when, “to be professional,” I say, “good.” Because if I’m not good, I feel like a liar.

Similarly, I feel that spending any amount of time sounding like I’m reading from a script during a business interaction is largely a waste. We’ve all done this dance. We exchange pleasantries, we toss around worn euphemisms, we talk about the kids’ sports and how the Seahawks are doing. But I believe everyone has a story. Everyone is unique and has something to give. To me a professional person is one who treats me as an individual and shows true caring rather than going through the motions of what they believe their bosses expect of them.

The other night I was brainstorming terms that that can be synonymous with professional. I’m just going to share it as it came to mind, because I’ve both worked in places where some of these traits are expected and witnessed it as a client or citizen.

Stern

Emotionless

Authoritative

Mean

Having the right to insult and disparage others

Superficial (!!!!)

Using worn, shallow, generic phrases instead of actually communicating with people

Patronizing

Impersonal

Not allowing creativity or individuals’ personality traits

Demanding uniformity rather than emphasizing individuals’ strengths

Reading from a script

Artificial

Have you ever felt this way at work? Like you’re expected to be a robot and just paste on a smile and say the same things no matter who you’re talking to? My question to management is, “when have you ever felt better after being treated this way?” Another question is, “is that really what your customers or public want?”

Then I made my list of qualities I consider professional:

Respectful

Helpful

Accommodating

Personable

Upbeat

Creative

Interested

Caring

Willing to think outside the box

Individual personality traits shine

Problem solver

Follow-through

Takes issue to the next level if needed

Respects me as a taxpayer, citizen, customer

Someone I’d want to talk to again

Obviously there are jobs and situations in which we have to show restraint. We can’t create liability for our organizations by apologizing, showing too much emotion, or becoming overly involved. We have defined roles and protocols. But almost every contact we have is an opportunity to treat others like their problem and input is important– because it often is.

If someone is being entitled or demanding you can always wait until you hang up or walk away to rassa frassa aahhhhh!!… and I openly admit to having my rassa frassa aahhh!! moments throughout the day. It’s no secret. I just have to ensure that I was professional enough to allow them to air their grievances (within reason) and make sure they felt heard. They took the time to call; even if they didn’t get the answer they wanted, they need to at least have the satisfaction that a fully functioning human being heard them out.

Government employees in particular can get a bum rap for being staid automatons who are just there for the paycheck. Fortunately I work with hundreds of people who aren’t like that at all. My circles are brimming with personality and I love that. But once in a while you’ll walk into some agency where you find a little truth to the stereotype and think, “It’s Roz! From Monsters, Inc.!” In particular, people don’t like being treated generically or talked down to by those in authority.

This can be a particularly sensitive issue in law enforcement because police officers have to maintain solid boundaries while interacting with all types of people. However, some of the most effective cops and other law enforcement employees I’ve known are those who command respect through being personable and committed to solving the problem at hand. Frankly, when you’re talking to them, you feel like you’re being taken seriously by a fellow resident of earth rather than simply being preached at or chastised by a superior life form. The latter may be seen as professional, but the former is infinitely better received by the public and causes both victims and suspects to open up.

Having been a front counter person for many years, this same behavior can happen in that venue. When you walk up to get help, do you want someone to stare at the ceiling like Steve in Office Space and start in with a monotone, “Good evening sir, my name is Steve. I come from a rough area. I used to be addicted to crack but now I am off it and trying to stay clean. That is why I am selling magazine subscriptions.” If you’ve seen the movie you know exactly what I’m driving at.

And– no! When I interact with someone at the counter I want to know who they are, how I can help them, and find something to laugh about while I’m at it. It creates rapport and fosters a mutual problem solving relationship rather than an adversarial one. I often notice people’s hats or t-shirts and strike up conversations about what’s on them. Inevitably we all know someone who knows someone who also stalks Bigfoot, served in a particular war, or enjoys being a walking billboard for a certain brand.

Next time you’re at the store/renewing your tabs/mailing a package/reporting a crime/buying a suit/getting a new battery for your cell phone that seems to be inhabited by sadistic, power hungry micro-gnomes, ask yourself if you’d treat you that way. Seriously. Were you treated as an individual with a unique need? Was the interaction pleasant or would you have felt the same if strapped to the wall of an overcrowded squash court with a blindfold on and bad Burt Bacharach muzak playing?

Ultimately, the question I’m asking is, “what feels professional to you?” Is it the generic, impersonal, outdated junk that’s been instilled in us from early on that we spew without thinking twice, or is it being human and helping other human beings find solutions? You already know the answer because you already know what speaks to you. Now go and do that, and watch how it transforms your relationships, your job, and your success.

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Remember that everyone you meet is afraid of something, loves something and has lost something.  -H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

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©2014 H. Hiatt/wildninjablog.com. All articles/posts on this blog are copyrighted original material that may not be reproduced in part or whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from H. Hiatt/wildninjablog.com.

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Planet Earth

Have you ever been so overwhelmed and besieged by a problem that if you could draw a picture of how you feel it would look like this?

Zoom Out 1 (more…)

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There might be a slight misspelling on this sign, but the sentiment is simple and powerful:

IMG_8654

Prayers are with the community of Newtown tonight.

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©2012 H. Hiatt/wildninja.wordpress.com. All articles/posts on this blog are copyrighted original material that may not be reproduced in part or whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from H. Hiatt/wildninja.wordpress.com.

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Seven years ago I was walking into work and had an abrupt “things that make you go hmm” moment when I saw this new sign. Clearly it was supposed to say “personnel,” but I had to wonder if the folks at the sign company were having a bit of fun. Soon after I pointed out the error the sign was replaced… but not before I grabbed some expired Polaroid film and snapped this shot for posterity’s sake.

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©2012 H. Hiatt/wildninja.wordpress.com. All articles/posts on this blog are copyrighted original material that may not be reproduced in part or whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from H. Hiatt/wildninja.wordpress.com.

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