Today is National Police Remembrance Day – a day to remember police officers who have died whilst on duty.
It is a day of conflicting emotions for me. Pride – to be part of the organisation whose charter is to put the welfare of others above themselves. A sense of belonging – we are a team, in this together. Sadness – families robbed of a loved one, often so needlessly. Trepidation – whose turn will it be next? Someone I know? Me?
Today in particular, I remember Detective Senior Constable Damian Leeding. His tragic death in 2011 struck a note with me. Maybe because he too was the father of two young children. He was on duty, responding to a triple 0 call for help – an armed hold-up at a tavern. As he ran towards the tavern, he was shot in the face by one of the robbers. This murderer was a career criminal. He had committed armed hold-ups before, using the same shotgun that killed DSC Leeding.
So what was worth enough to take a man’s life? About $16,000. That was the amount of money recovered in nearby bushland, the proceeds of the armed robbery. Presumably to be shared amongst the three persons involved in the robbery. So a bit more than $5000 each. That is the price a criminal put on a police officer’s life. A paltry piddling sum. It might have paid for some rent, some groceries, some booze, some drugs. Not necessarily in that order. Definitely not a life-changing amount of money. But that day, this murderer changed the lives of so many forever. DSC Leeding left behind a wife and two children, both of whom were so young they may have no direct memories of their father. He was just 35 years old.
Police are often maligned. I myself often go out of my way in my private life not to reveal what I do for a living. I will often describe my occupation as ‘public servant’ and try not to elaborate on that. You never know what sort of reaction you will get from people. That said, I think most people have respect for police, or at least the job police do. Most people can look past the undeserved traffic ticket or a rude individual hiding behind the badge and see the bigger picture. Police play an important role in society, working for the greater good, far beyond shutting down noisy parties or giving tickets to jaywalkers.
When the proverbial hits the fan and you are caught in a genuine emergency, nothing will sound quite as sweet as the police sirens drawing closer.
When your back is to the wall and a police officer comes rushing to your defence, blue will suddenly become your favourite colour.
When there is a disaster and everyone is trying to flee and escape, it is police, and usually ambos and firies too, who head towards the trouble.
It takes a certain type of person to do that. Even those officers who have not been called to a serious job are still prepared to do it. They have pledged to take on every challenge. And each day we turn up to work, we make that same commitment to any job the shift might bring – to serve, to protect, to help.
And that’s why Police Remembrance Day is important.