The Footnotes

GOVERNMENT & DEFENCE

On the job stories told by a Sydney police officer

What’s happening in your neighbourhood?

We’ve always been intrigued by the work of Australia’s police force. What’s it like to always be strong and unwavering, a bulwark for the Australian public? How do you treat those more difficult cases involving mental health, drug use and domestic abuse? How do you tell next of kin that their loved one has passed away? 

We had the opportunity to chat to Elise, a young General Duties Police Officer on the NSW Police Force about dealing with mental health on the streets of Sydney, being assertive in the face of intimidation and delivering death messages to families.

Here what we’ve learned:

FN: How do you deal with drug/alcohol use and abuse? Is this something you encounter quite a bit?

A: You kind of get used to seeing it.

You come across a lot of people that rely on it [drugs and alcohol] in their life. They’re regular people you encounter but there are certain procedures you have to follow. I had an incident the other day where a young girl who is quite well known to us [the NSW police force] had gotten so drunk that she attempted suicide. When we got there she was unresponsive, lying on the ground in a pool of blood.

For people like that we have to treat them under the Mental Health Act. We go to hospital, fill out a form and file it into that system. She [the young girl] is now in a psych ward. Hopefully it won’t happen again for a little while.

Those types of cases are a revolving door. You’re always going to see them and you’ll always come across them. You learn what to do after experience and how to talk to them.

FN: Is the ‘revolving door’ frustrating?

A: It can be really frustrating because it’s like the ‘boy who cried wolf’. You don’t know if they’re legitimate in what they’ve said.

A lot of drug and alcohol issues come with mental health so if someone threatens suicide, by law you must detain them under the Mental Health Act and take them to the nearest hospital for a assessment by a doctor. But they [the apprehended individual] know exactly what to so say to get out of it and they’re usually released from hospital within a couple hours. And it all happens again the next night.

“I had an incident the other day where a young girl who is quite well known to us [the NSW police force] had gotten so drunk that she attempted suicide. When we got there she was unresponsive, lying on the ground in a pool of blood.”

FN: Have you ever encountered abusive situations? How do you deal with those?

A: Domestic violence is a massive issue in the community. It’s one of the predominant jobs we deal with. And it’s not always the men doing it [domestic violence] towards women either. I’ve arrested just as many women for domestic common assault and charged them with either common assault or assault occasioning bodily harm.

It’s a huge issue and we are obliged by legislation to report it. For example, if someone came to the station and said, “He hit me and I’ve got a bruise but I just want to tell you guys [the police]. I don’t want anything done”, we have to investigate and take action because they have disclosed assault within a domestic relationship. We are obliged by law to take action whether the victim is on board or not.

A lot of the time you’ll charge a male or female for hitting their partner and the victim may not want help.

They’ll come to court and get in the witness box and lie. All this hard work you’ve put in, like getting the brief of evidence together for court and doing statements, is – it’s not a waste of time, but it’s a big chunk of your time which has been taken up only for the case to get thrown out of court because the witness is not reliable.

FN: Have you ever encountered abusive situations yourself?

A: Yeah all the time. I’m used to getting shouted at and getting called names. It comes hand in hand with the job. You’ve got to deal with it and not take it personally.

FN: What kind of names have you been called?

A: Everything. ‘Pig’, ‘child’, the F-bomb. Everything. A lot of the time, you learn to communicate ahead of this. I’m very lucky that I haven’t been really badly verbally abused.

You need to learn how to talk to people. Of course some young guys will tend to go in with a ‘gung-ho’ approach but I find that if you talk to them on a level they can relate to then they won’t be abusive towards you.

I actually find it more offensive when I’m the senior person attending a job with an older male who is junior in rank and I don’t get even looked at. For example, if we’re speaking to an informant, they mightn’t talk to me or look at me, they’ll look to the male and assume he is in charge or knows more. I always find that harder to deal with than being shouted at. Being a woman in this job can be hard especially because I’m young or I have blonde hair. People don’t think I know as much as I do.

Domestic violence is a massive issue in the community. It’s one of the predominant jobs we deal with.

FN: What are the biggest misconceptions about your job?

1. We don’t taser people every shift. It’s very rare to hear that an officer has used a taser to subdue a suspect. And no… we don’t get tasered as practice in Australia!

2. We don’t take our handcuffs home and use them on our partners. That’s gross. If you saw some of the people that we handcuff you would understand!

3. We don’t work with just one person all the time. I work with a team of 15 or so and we swap around most shifts.

4. We don’t just sit around and eat donuts all day… although I don’t mind a good Krispy Kreme Original Glaze from time to time!

FN: So, what does a typical week look like for you?

A: On a typical day, you’ll check in with the sergeants and look for your name on a job board to see what you’re tasked with for the day.

You’ll be assigned either to a car crew to respond to jobs for the entire day or you’ll be a ‘switch bitch’ aka station officer where you’ll also be partnered up, dealing with people who walk into the station and answering phones.

General duties police are the ones you see out and about dealing with people on the street and responding to most emergency calls. We go to with a variety of jobs throughout the day which can include things like domestic violence, mental health, deceased persons, suicide attempts, brawls, noise complaints, car accidents, parking complaints and neighbour disputes. The list goes on…

I will usually work a four day block comprising of two day shifts and two night shifts which are all 12 hours. These are generally from 7am to 7pm. We get four days off after that.

FN: What study did you undertake to work in the NSW Police Force?

A: When I signed up in 2012 you were required to have gone through Year 12 successfully. It also helped if you had a tertiary qualification; I had just completed an Advanced Diploma in Fashion Merchandising.

Although it’s changed now and you have to do a University Certificate in Workforce Essentials or UCWE with Charles Sturt University.

(Editor’s Note: Your result from the UCWE will also contribute to your ranking during the NSW Police Force application process; it’s a bit more than a pass/fail!).

“We go to with a variety of jobs throughout the day which can include things like domestic violence, mental health, deceased persons, suicide attempts, brawls, noise complaints, car accidents, parking complaints and neighbour disputes. The list goes on…”

FN: What sort of training did you need to undertake?

A: The training program consisted of eight months at Goulburn Police Academy. The first four months were predominantly theory classes with  personal training every few days and marching classes once a fortnight.

We learnt about Law (street offensives, graffiti, traffic legislation), Ethics and Customer Service (some people have never worked in customer service so it’s helpful for them) as well as some other topics.

The last couple of months at the Academy were different as we got to learn all the ‘deft tac’ stuff meaning the tactical and physical side.

FN: What sort of fitness tests do you have to pass?

A: There is a standard fitness test you have to pass before you can go through to the Police Academy. It’s not particularly difficult but you do need to be fit.

You have to run the beep test to a score of about 8.1, do an agility test in under two minutes, have a hand grip strength over 35 kilograms, do 25 push ups on your toes and a plank for a few minutes. It’s important to maintain that standard of fitness throughout the training and afterwards as well.

FN: What do you do if you run into someone you know breaking the law?

A: If you attend a job or pull someone over that you know it’s best to remove yourself from the situation and get your partner to deal with them. This is referred to as a conflict of interest and it’s best that you don’t deal directly with them, as you have to put public interests ahead of your own.

 “I’m used to getting shouted at and getting called names. It comes hand in hand with the job.”

FN: Have you had to deliver death messages?

I haven’t had to do too many which is good. It’s hard. You can’t be emotional. You have to say how it is. They may have a question about what happened [to their loved one] and you may not be able to respond which is hard. You want to give them an answer but you can’t as they might still be investigating or making enquiries as to cause of death.

You can’t be sympathetic, you can’t show emotion or say “I understand” because you don’t. You don’t understand what they’re going through. It’s pretty full on. It’s not the easiest thing to do.

Q: What do you love about your job?

A: There are so many things to love about my job. Every single day is different.

I work in one of the most beautiful local area commands in NSW so I get to see some pretty nice sights on my drives throughout the day. The people that I work with also make my job well worth it and I’ve made some lifelong friends. Without their support and encouragement I wouldn’t be where I am now.

FN: For young people considering following your path, what personal attributes or interests do you think they should have?

You have to be patient and confident. You’re dealing with members of the public, so having confidence will definitely help. Everyone thinks that when you join the police force that you’ll be helping people and you absolutely will, but not everyone is appreciative of it. That’s something you’ve got to come terms with.

Working in the environment that we do and with a good group of people, is so awesome. We have such a  great camaraderie. You bond over doing in the job and can meet people you’ve never met before and instantly get along with them because they’re a cop. I think it might be the same across other Emergency Services like firies and ambos.

You need to be enthusiastic, driven, assertive and confident to be in the job. And good at communicating. It all comes down to communication. Ninety-eight per cent of the time you can talk yourself out of a situation. If not, you can always ask for backup. Colleagues are minutes away.

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On the job stories told by a Sydney police officer
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