Damned Police

A man in a car does donuts in a crowded public space. The man then drives along a footpath brutally mowing people down and killing several pedestrians. The police are heavily criticised for not doing anything to stop him earlier.

A man in a car does donuts in a crowded public space. A police officer attempts to stop him by successfully shooting out the tyres of the moving car. The car however does not immediately stop – it veers out of control, onto a footpath and kills a pedestrian. Police are heavily criticised for shooting at the car in a public place because it doesn’t actually make a car stop completely.

A man in a car does donuts in a crowded public space. A police officer attempts to stop him by shooting out the tyres of the moving car. The police officer misses because this is an incredibly difficult thing to do. One of the stray bullets ricochets and hits a pedestrian, killing her. Police are heavily criticised for shooting in a public place.

A man in a car does donuts in a crowded public space. A police officer shoots the man at the wheel, killing him. Police are heavily criticised for over-reacting because his family says he was not a bad man, he was just going through a bad patch and didn’t deserve to die. People ask why the officer didn’t just incapacitate him by shooting him in the shoulder.

A man in a car does donuts in a crowded public space. A police officer attempts to tackle the driver through the open window. The police officer is thrown off balance, falls under the wheels of the car and is killed. The man then drives off, hitting several pedestrians. Although the officer himself is hailed as a hero, the police are heavily criticised for lack of training and that nothing further was done to try to stop the man.

Real life is not like a movie. Just because Bruce Willis could do it in ‘Die Hard’ doesn’t mean it can happen in the street. As a police officer, you are thrust into a situation and you have to think on your feet. You use your human skills and best judgement on what you know at that precise moment.

Maybe you know the person you are up against. Maybe you know he is violent and unpredictable, and has been threatening to kill. Or maybe you only know what you can see. An angry man in a car. But you do know that you will be held accountable for every decision you make.

As a police officer, you rely on your training. You have the voices of your superiors ringing in your ears to show restraint and caution. You also hear the voice of your own conscience. Is this justified? Can I live with the consequences of my actions, whatever I choose? Can I forsee all the possible consequences?

No one knows the ‘right’ answer at the time. The ‘right’ answer only appears afterwards with hindsight.

As a police officer, you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

J.M. Peace is a serving police officer and the author of ‘A Time To Run’ and ‘The Twisted Knot’.

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When can a child walk to school by themselves?

Miles pic

This has generated lots of passionate discussion on social media.

This article from Miles police appeared on social media and in the news through the week, causing enormous uproar. It cautions parents against letting their children walk to school by themselves. As a mother and a police officer, I have strong opinions on this, and judging by the commentary on social media, so do many other parents.

Firstly, I want to clarify that yes – this is a current piece of legislation in Queensland. Yes, the exact age of twelve is specified. The law considers that at this age, children are considered responsible. But importantly, this law does not immediately deem children under that age irresponsible. The key phrase in the legislation is “without making reasonable provision for the supervision and care of the child”.

What is ‘reasonable provision’? What defines ‘an unreasonable time’? It’s open to interpretation. But if you can name even one thing that may constitute this provision, then you probably have no need to worry about this law.

Does your child walk with siblings or another child? Do they have safe ways to cross any roads? Have you walked the route with them and addressed possible problems? Have you spoken to them about what they should do if approached by someone? Will someone quickly let you know if your kids fail to turn up? Any of these are reasonable provisions.

Some parents send their five year olds off by themselves to get to school. There are ten year olds sent off to school who detour past the local skate park and never make it to classes. There are seven year olds who wander out in peak hour traffic on their way to school, trusting in the quick reactions of drivers. So these specific laws are dragged out by exasperated police when dealing with repeated situations like this.

When I was a kid, our parents were happy for my brother and I to walk to school as soon as we were old enough to attend. This was the norm. But my parents also made us ride in the boot portion of the family station wagon after we’d been to the beach so we didn’t wreck the upholstery. We live in a different world today. As much as I’d like my kids to have a childhood disappearing all day and returning home once the street lights came on, it’s just not the same. There’s been a shift in awareness.

However, I do want to raise independent and capable children who can make practical decisions. So my children, aged seven and nine, walk part of the way to school by themselves on some mornings. I have made a number of provisions and I have no fear for their safety. This is even though, as a police officer, I know the sort of people lurking around and the sorts of things that happen. By applying due diligence and common sense, I’ve minimised the risk. I accept there is always some small risk, but this is inherent in everything we do. If someone attempted to charge me simply on the basis of the ages of my children, it would be thrown out of court. I don’t believe it’s the intention of the legislation. What age you are happy to let your children do things alone is a question for your family, and not the law – providing the ‘reasonable provisions’ have been met.

I recently discussed this very piece of legislation with the detective in charge of my local Child Protection Investigation Unit. I was on the cusp of leaving my nine year old at home by herself for short periods of time. The same law applies for this as for walking to school alone. He asked whether I had made ‘reasonable provisions’ for my daughter. She knows my phone number. She knows which neighbours she can go to. She is forbidden from going to the door unless it is a short list of specific people. She knows about ‘tricky people’ as well as ‘bad people’. She has been quizzed on what she would do in numerous hypothetical scenarios. She is responsible and sensible. As a parent, I am happy to leave her alone for short periods of time.

The age of twelve is arbitrary and Queensland seems to be the only state which has set this. I personally thought high school would be the age when I would leave my children alone for longer, so they wouldn’t have to go to vacation care when I’m at work. But with high school now including Year 7 in Queensland, many kids will start at the age of eleven. So do they have to return to primary school vacation care programs until they turn twelve? Or do the ‘reasonable provisions’ extend to a full day?

It boils down to what steps you have taken to ensure your child is safe. If the worst case scenario does happen, what could you say about your actions?

I’m not sure what prompted this particular notification in Miles. But I can guarantee there is more to this story than police randomly choosing a child quietly making their way in to school. Although I think this particular notification was probably ill-advised and the interpretation that ‘kids under 12 cannot walk or ride to school alone’ is flawed, the resulting reactions show that it is clearly a topic many parents seek guidance on.

It’s certainly prompted parents to think about their views and why they hold them. And that in itself is a positive thing.

Bikies and the VLAD laws

bikie pic

Not in Queensland. Image credit ABC News

Bikies are bad. It’s that simple.

I’m not talking about guys on motorbikes who like to cruise around with their mates on a Sunday. I’m talking about the outlaw motorcycle gangs. They, too, like to cruise around on their bikes with their mates. But they are also like to deal in drugs and weapons. They are criminals.

In 2013, following a couple of incidents on the Gold Coast where bikies showed their disregard for not just the law, but society, the Queensland Government passed the Vicious Lawless Association Disestablishment (VLAD). They are harsh laws, the overwhelming aim of which is to make bikies change their minds or leave the state. The laws included highly controversial measures such as banning bikies from their own clubhouses and also wearing their ‘colours’.

When they were introduced, there was an outcry from the civil libertarians along with the bikies. They were labelled ‘draconian’ and ‘oppressive’ as well as ‘ineffective’ and ‘unlawful’. Appeals were made to the Supreme Court. Right now, the current Labor government who inherited the legislation from the LNP are looking at scrapping the controversial laws.

Whatever people may think of the laws themselves, it is important not to lose sight of the core principle behind them – bikies are bad.

This may not be immediately apparent. Bikies are sons and husband, brothers and fathers. They often lead ‘normal’ lives, running businesses and raising families. If you meet a bikie during the course of your day, you may wonder what the fuss is about.

The first clue comes from their own description of themselves. They call themselves ‘one percenters’, where the other 99% are law abiding. They proudly display ‘1%’ as part of their colours, to show the rules do not apply to them.

The violent crimes committed by bikies are mostly against each other or associates, and they don’t report them to police. Any time you hear on the news that the victim declined to talk to police, you can guess it is bikie-related. Although the violence is reserved for people known to them, they don’t care if anyone else gets in the way. They are comfortable with threats, extortion and blackmail in order to keep their activities under the radar. They are only held accountable for a small fraction of the crimes they commit.

A huge way in which bikies are a menace to society is through their involvement in the drug trade. As a police officer and a parent, I believe drugs such as ice and speed are the biggest scourge of today’s society and anything that can be done to keep drugs off the streets and away from potential new users is imperative to addressing this problem.

The way I see it, the laws may be excessive but they are a means to an end. I don’t want the laws watered down. I want bikies put on notice.

Gender equality in policing?

tall and short

It’s simple physiology. Image courtesy of Cairns police blog

A recent item on the news caught my attention. It was about Queensland Police Service’s latest initiative to have equal numbers of males and female recruits accepted into the Academy. This is part of a push that was supposedly already in the pipeline when I was accepted into the police over fifteen years ago. Back then, they were working towards having equal numbers of men and women in the police to reflect the make-up of society. And now they are at that point – Commissioner Stewart has given a direction that there will be a 50/50 ratio of male and female recruits.

Gender equality is always a touchy subject and even as I write this, I wonder if I can explain myself in a way that doesn’t make me sound like I’m selling out. My opinion is based on fifteen plus years experience, most of it as a first response officer. I have worked with a whole lot of officers – senior and junior, male and female. And I think this 50/50 policy is flawed.

The first problem is a simple physiological one. In general, women are not as strong as men. This isn’t sexism, this is biology. We’re built differently (and thank goodness for that). Of course there are exceptions, but I clearly remember an instructor at the Academy telling us that the average woman has strength equal to a thirteen-year-old boy. So the minute you are up against a fourteen-year-old boy or above, you are already on the back foot.

But police all have the same weapons, don’t they? Yes, and the same training too. But the minute you can’t talk your way out of or somehow defuse a situation before reaching onto your utility belt, the more likely someone – or everyone – is going to get hurt. It’s not necessarily a simple matter to slap on a set of handcuffs or give a quick squirt of OC spray. You have to be able to use the weapons effectively on someone who may be violent, unco-operative or drug-affected. Even if you are using an accoutrement, it is a physical and mostly violent action. It often ends in tears.

Then you have to add to this the attitude of the people you are dealing with. I’ve turned up to jobs with a female colleague only to be laughed at and told to go get the “real” police. Go to a domestic violence incident where a man has been beating a woman, turn up with two female officers in a crew and you’re already up against it. He’s just flogged his missus, now a couple of chicks want to push him around? How’s that going to go? There are also cultures whose menfolk simply refuse to deal with women. It shouldn’t happen – it shouldn’t matter who’s inside the uniform. But not every idiot on the street has got the memo that we’re equal now.

It is all well and good to say you want gender balance. But the fact of the matter is that a higher proportion of offenders are male. A quick look through recent assault numbers show about five times as many were committed by men. Having police numbers which reflect the make-up of society is pointless. It would be more useful for them to reflect the make-up of the clientele police deal with.

The 50/50 ratio suggests that there would always be a male and a female officer making up each crew. This would be great. Men and women have different strengths and different ways of dealing with the mix of people policing throws up at you. But this is not how rostering works. There are always officers on leave and shift equity has to be taken into account. More women in the police will mean more ‘bitch crews’ – yes, this is how they are referred to. It’s more dangerous working with another female officer, especially on night shift when there may be no other officers to help out. It’s not fair but that’s because the society we police is not fair.

In an ideal world, male and female police officers would be treated as equals by both their colleagues and all segments of the community. But policing is not carried out in the ideal world. The real world is a far messier place, where drugs, alcohol, testosterone and anger are often driving forces. Muscle and physical presence have their part to play. And women are at a disadvantage.

Just because I’m a police officer…

First published in the Sunshine Coast Daily on June 13, 2015

I’m a mother of two. I’m a successful writer. But being a police officer is the thing that seems to define me in the eyes of everybody else.

I’ve been doing this for many years now and I’ve built certain defences against the stereotypes and presumptions people immediately make when you say ‘I’m a cop’. It’s a shame because it’s only a part of who I am but often people just can’t see past it. They treat me differently when they find out I’m a police officer.

It can be very polarising, and you never know what sort of reaction you’re going to get. It seems to depend on people’s most recent experience with police. And if someone’s just received a traffic ticket for driving with their arm out of the car window, then you can expect some crankiness.

Sometimes though, it comes from unexpected quarters. I ran into my Grade Three teacher shortly after I’d graduated from the Police Academy. When she asked me what I’d been up to in the ensuing decades, I proudly told her about my shiny new career. She launched into a diatribe about corrupt and evil police because she was in a family war with her police-officer brother-in-law. Well, that was unexpected. Lesson learnt.

When I chose this career, I accepted the fact that people may hate me for what I represent rather than who I am. To a certain extent, it is a 24 hour job. You are never not a police officer and this can attract a lot of negativity. I get paid to deal with that at work, but when my shift ends, I want the cynicism to end too.

Clearly, I don’t spend all of my time at work. I do the same things other people do when they are not at work – shopping, picking the kids up from school, paying bills, enjoying hobbies. When I’m not in my uniform, I don’t usually ‘feel’ like a police officer. I have a life aside from my job. If I’m just going about my own business, I don’t want any attention drawn to me. It can make things uncomfortable, confronting or even dangerous, depending on who happens to be around. There is a huge difference to being at work kitted up, with a partner by your side to being blindsided in Coles alone with your hands full of groceries.

With this in mind, here are a few things I’d like to say as a cop to the general public.

Just because I’m a police officer doesn’t mean my job is like a TV cop show. “Have you ever shot anybody?” is only an acceptable question to ask me if you are under the age of 10.

Just because I’m a police officer… doesn’t mean I want to hear about each and every time you’ve had anything to do with police. Especially not some traffic ticket you think you didn’t deserve. Really. If I didn’t write it, I’m not interested. Even if I did write it – if you want to argue it, I’ll see you in court, when I’m actually at work and getting paid to sort that stuff out.

Just because I’m a police officer… doesn’t mean I’m going to admit it to you. I don’t know you, I don’t know what reaction I might get, so I’m steering clear of a potential minefield. Ask me what my job is, I’ll say something generic like ‘public servant’, and dodge any follow-up questions until I know who you are. Just leave it be.

Just because I’m a police officer… doesn’t mean I have every answer. I make mistakes, I have bad days, I make errors of judgement. I can’t always solve all your problems, and honestly, sometimes your problems can’t be solved. Blaming me is just going to make me cranky and that’s not going to help either one of us.

Just because I’m a police officer… doesn’t mean it defines me. I might also be a mother, a father, a husband, a carer, a writer, a runner, a knitter, a builder. Some people love being a police officer and they want it to impact on every part of their life. But for a lot of us, it pays the bills and we may consider it to be one of the least interesting parts of our lives. If you talk to me normally, as a person, you might find that out.

Just because I’m a police officer… doesn’t mean I’m want to lock everyone up. I could not begin to count the number of times I have had strangers push their friends towards me and say something like “look Bob, the police have finally caught up with you”. It’s not funny. Please. Just stop it.

Just because I’m a police officer… doesn’t mean you have to announce it to everyone around you, at every possible opportunity. If I’m at work, in my uniform, I accept the attention it draws. That’s part of the job. But if I’m in the playground with my kids, and someone feels the need to announce it loudly, then that makes me cringe and look over my shoulder. You don’t have to constantly bring it up in conversation. Move past it. It’s not that exciting.

Just because I’m a police officer… doesn’t mean I’m not a person. Please treat me as such.

Juggling policing and motherhood

First published in the Sun-Herald August 2, 2015

The man facing me is agitated. He curses loudly and aggressively, spittle flying out with his words. I’m acutely aware we are outside a shopping centre and the people going about their business shouldn’t have to put up with this. And as a police officer, it is my job to resolve it. But the man won’t listen to sense; he’s shaping up for a fight. His fists are clenched and the colour is rising in his face. My partner is reaching for his capsicum spray but I’m persisting in trying to talk the man down, while glancing inconspicuously at my watch. I don’t want to arrest him. Not only is it risky and hazardous. But a trip to the watchhouse means I’ll be late for the school run.

I’m one of a surprising number of women who juggles raising children with work, when work means strapping on a number of assorted weapons. For the last fifteen years, I’ve been a ‘general duties’ police officer. When the call for help comes through, my job description involves racing there with lights and sirens on. I used to love the action and unpredictability. I was drawn to it because I wanted some excitement and I didn’t want to be stuck in some office.

Having children changed it for me. These days, with a six and eight year old in the equation, I just want to finish work on time and go home in one piece. I no longer want to put myself in any sort of dangerous situation. I don’t want to risk a needlestick injury or have some drug-addled grub spit at me. How do you explain to a child that Mummy can’t kiss you till the disease test has come back? I tried to rationalise my change of heart to one of the station sergeants. He told me I needed to take a tablespoon of concrete and “harden the f__ up”.

Sometimes, as a cop, I know things a mother shouldn’t. There is a man I often see at the local shops, who is a convicted pedophile. He always gives me a wave and a smile when he sees me. Especially when I have my children with me. We both know he has done his time and is entitled to go to the shops. He is not breaking any rules by saying ‘hello’ to me, or even my children. But it makes my skin crawl. I want to yell out ‘pedophile!’, alert everyone to who he is. I want to warn him if he goes near my children, I will do unspeakable things to his unmentionables. But because of my job, I have to keep my thoughts and my words to myself. Would it be easier not to know at all?

At the start of each school year, I scan my kids’ class lists to see if I recognise any surnames. One year, my daughter had a friend, both of whose parents I had arrested. I needn’t have worried – these aren’t the sort of parents who hang around for a chat outside the classroom. I’ve only been caught out once, at a six year-old’s birthday party, where I didn’t realise who her mother was until I was standing at the front door with my daughter, present in hand. I recognised her but thankfully a couple of years and a different hairstyle was enough for her not to recognise me. People don’t seem to make the connection that I may be someone other than a police officer.

Then there are other, random occasions where motherhood and policing collide. One day, I realised I had forgotten to send an important work email. No problem. I’d just picked my children up from care, so I could duck past the station on the way home. It would take two minutes. However, my children (aged about one and three at the time) had other ideas. When I parked at the station, my three year old got it into her head that she did not want to go into the station. She started up the sort of hysterical screaming for no good reason which only a toddler can manage. Her little brother, always the follower, joined in. I unbuckled my daughter’s car restraint and she ricocheted around the inside of the car, screaming. While I was attempting to either settle her down or grab her (either one would have done at that stage), the volume and persistence of her screams caused an officer to come out from the nearby Child Protection Investigation Unit. Because judging by the noise, clearly some children needed protection. He laughed when he saw it was me; he was also the parent of young children. I ended up carrying two screaming children into the police station, one tucked under each arm like carrying pigs to market, so I could send my two minute email. It’s funny now, but there was more apologising than laughing at the time.

But my kids are proud of my job. They tell their friends, the parents of their friends, strangers at the park. My daughter even threatened to call me in once when her teacher was stirring her up. I’m pretty sure she was joking. But you never know what reaction you will get from people when they find out you’re a cop. It can be very polarising, depending on people’s experiences with police. I ran into my grade three teacher shortly after I had been sworn in. When she asked me what I’d been up to since grade three, I told her proudly about graduating from the Academy. She launched into a diatribe about corrupt and evil police because her police-officer brother-in-law had screwed her over. Lesson learnt. You can never predict someone’s reaction. If you ask me, I’ll say I’m a public servant till I know you.

I have attempted over the years to get myself into a more suitable position. As a part-timer, it is very hard to get relieving duties. Without the relieving duties, I can’t get the experience needed to win another position. I like to work. I enjoy being part of a workplace and having this extra facet to my life. I don’t know if being a stay at home mum would suit me. But I know this is no longer the job for me. Fifteen years as a copper on the road leaves me sadly underqualified to do much else.

So general duties it is for me. With a tablespoon of concrete at the start of each shift.

How should children see police?

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3064952/Schoolboy-10-arrested-police-mother-called-cops-teach-lesson.html

The  linked Daily Mail article tells the story of this photo

The linked Daily Mail article tells the story of the ‘arrest’ of this ten year old boy.

The linked article is about a mother with an unruly ten year old boy. She managed to organise for the local police to ‘arrest’ him in handcuffs and ‘take him away’.

I feel really strongly about this sort of thing. Although this article is a few weeks old and from the USA, this school of thought – ‘the cops should give kids a boot up the bum’ – exists everywhere.

The ten year old in this article is described as being disrespectful and back-chatting. Not good. But not criminal. He’s not breaking into cars, graffiting trains or smashing windows. However, it was enough for a couple of obliging officers from the local police station to come and ‘arrest’ him. They cuffed him to the rear, marched him out to the police car and locked him in the back for a few minutes.

As a result, the mother claims her son’s behaviour has improved dramatically. Yes, it probably has. By the look of the photos, the officers scared the living daylights out of him. But I’m going to guess, the good behaviour will be short term. Clearly, everyone in this situation cares about this child. But I don’t believe bad behaviour can be cured by a set of handcuffs and two minutes of terror. And the thing that bothers me most is the way this reflects on the role of police. It shows the child that police are scary enforcers who will render you powerless. Whilst this is often true, this is not how police should be seen by pre-adolescent children.

Of course, police should be respected. But there is a huge difference between respect and fear. People often confuse the two because some people can only gain respect through fear. But this is not the mandate of police. We are the keepers of the law, working to keep society civil. We are the good guys.

Parents want their children to have respect for the law, and its upholders, don’t they? So why do parents regularly try to convince kids that police are scary? Why do they tell them that we’re there to lock them up and punish them? Why is it that every time we do a foot patrol through the local shopping centre, invariably at least one parent points us out to their young child and says something along the lines of – “Look, there’s the police. They’ll lock you up if you don’t behave yourself/ stop your tantrum/ do what I say.”

Ever done this? Stop it! Please. You do not want your young children to be scared of us. We are the ones they should run to, not run away from in fear. We will protect them. Please, do not use police as a threat. If you are unhappy with the way your child is behaving, then parent them – don’t contort our powers and turn them into a threat.

When do children generally come into contact with police? When they are lost or offended against or caught in the middle of an adult situation – these are all times when police are involved to assist them. You don’t want them to be scared of the people trying to help them.

When kids reach their teenage years, they can sort out for themselves which side of the law they choose to stand on. They will have a better understanding of their actions and consequences. But before that, cops should always be the good guys.

I have done many talks at pre-schools and kindergartens. Children are fascinated by the accoutrements police carry and there are always questions about weapons. I usually show kids my handcuffs. Then I find a willing underage volunteer. I put the cuffs on their tiny little wrists, then I encourage them to pull their hands straight out of the cuffs. I tell them, “These handcuffs are not for children. They are too big. These are for adults. We don’t handcuff children.”

Please, please, for the sake of your children (may they never need us) – if you see the police, by all means point us out to your children, but say “Look there’s the police’. But then say, “why don’t you give them a wave”. If it’s me, I promise I’ll wave back

 

In defence of protective behaviours

IMG_5120Violence against women (both inside and outside the home) is a disturbing and horrendous crime. The insidious and senseless death of Masa Vukotic has sent social media into a frenzy.

Women should be able to walk by themselves. Women should not be scared to go out at night. A woman is not asking for violence with whatever she might wear. Agree. Agree. Agree. I am, after all a woman too. And the mother of a girl.

I have also read several articles belittling police who have suggested protective behaviours. By this, I mean recommendations such as not wearing headphones when you’re walking alone, exercising in pairs, carrying a set of keys in your hand. They are paltry offerings and can be seen as condescending. Hence the backlash on social media.

The sad truth is, when it comes to policing random murderers, I’m sorry to say that’s all we’ve got. I wish there was something else. Tell me – how do you police psychopaths? You can attempt to recognise them and control them, but what are you going to do when they’re anonymously wandering around the neighbourhood?

But people expect a response from police. Unfortunately, protective behaviours are the limit of what’s in the police arsenal for this type of crime. Someone tell me differently. Please.

Yes, it shouldn’t be this way. Women should have the right to complete freedom. But even if there is a societal shift, if domestic violence is reduced, if women are afforded constant respect – even then there will still be these psychopaths who have something wrong in their brains, who have the capacity to commit these horrible soulless crimes.

The percentage of these people is minute. These murders are all over the news because thankfully, they’re tiny horrible exceptions. But they exist. And if you choose to exercise your right to walk anywhere, at any time, by yourself (I do myself) – then you need to have a Plan B somewhere in the back of your mind. It is the reason myself along with both of my children practice martial arts.

I believe in protective behaviours. For any one. Female or male, young or old. It’s not giving in or surrendering your rights. It’s an insurance policy. The same way you lock your house when you’re out, or put a seatbelt on in a car. It’s the acknowledgement that you can’t predict or control all eventualities. But you can try and protect yourself against them.

I want to share a first hand experience. I have travelled a lot overseas. By myself most of the time. Sometimes I did risky things.

Then one time, I was attacked.

I was on holidays in Africa, and visited the island of Zanzibar. The beach was just beautiful. Having spent a lot of time on buses, I decided to stretch my legs with a jog along the beach. None of my travelling companions wanted to, but why would that stop me? I left my money belt with my friends and off I jogged. There was no one around. I was in a world of my own, absorbed with my own thoughts. I didn’t even see the man move out of the bushes behind me. The first I knew was when he grabbed me from behind, pushing me forward into a headlock.

First was confusion. Was one of my friends having a joke with me? Then I saw bare black feet next to mine and I knew this was real.

I was a cop when this incident happened. I had been taught lateral vascular neck restraints. This is when you restrict the blood flow to the head by applying pressure to the neck, causing the person to faint. Our instructors like to tell us this is considered lethal force. Then they tell us to try it own on one another. So when my attacker had me in a head lock, I’d been in one before and my following thought was – he’s doing it wrong, he won’t make me pass out.

The next thing I did was probably what saved me. I did – anything. I did not freeze. I did not panic. I reacted. I tried to get him off me. I have always said, if the shit hit the fan, my ‘go to’ move would be to kick or strike the groin. I twisted to the side and brought my knee up to his testicles. But with a nightmarish slow-motion type of realisation, there was no strength in my kick and my aim was off. It didn’t collapse him to his knees like I hoped. But it was enough. The simple act of doing something – even something ineffectual – was enough. He let go of me.

I’m assuming he was after money. I had equivalent of about $3 in my pocket. I should have thrown it at him and been done with it. But it didn’t even cross my mind. He had let go of me, I was out of there. I started running. But it wasn’t panic running. I left at jogging pace.

He came after me.

I knew I couldn’t outrun some athletic-looking man. And there was no way I was going to let him jump me from behind again. So when he got closer. I stopped and turned around to face him. I put my fists up, I cocked my front leg ready to kick out and I yelled something at him. I can’t remember what it was, and he mightn’t have spoken English anyway. But it was enough. He was not prepared to fight. He turned and disappeared into the bushes again.

I had a slightly bruised throat and a hell of a story. It did not ruin my holidays. But it took me a long time to shake that sense of being ambushed from behind. Afterwards, all the other possible scenarios went through my mind. What if there were two of them? What if he had a knife? What if it wasn’t money he was after?

Consider the possibilities. Protect yourself.

Pointless Punishments

gavel picIf there’s one thing that irritates police officers across the board, it is manifestly inadequate sentencing of offenders put before the court. I don’t think there’s a copper in the state who hasn’t said ‘what’s the point?’ when someone they worked hard to charge, gets let off with the proverbial ‘slap over the wrist’. The last couple of weeks have seen a few crass examples:

  • A football player charged with four counts of possession of cocaine is fined $2500 by the courts – and no conviction recorded (He paid the fine with spare change he found down the the back of the couch).
  • A police sergeant charged with possessing drugs (ice/steroids) and a pipe was fined $600 and no conviction recorded (You swear to serve and protect, you especially should be held to that standard).
  • An American involved with importing 85kg of cocaine and 192kg of methamphetamine and caught with $154,550 in cash had his charges negotiated and ended up getting just 12 months jail and then a tax-payer funded flight back home when his visa was cancelled. (Explain that one to Chan and Sukumaran).
  • And the one that made me gobsmacked enough to write this blog – a man successfully fled from police who tried to pull him over when they observed him driving erratically. He was not meant to be driving at the time. The law that the court is meant to be upholding states people who evade police, potentially causing a pursuit and potentially putting the lives of any other road user at risk must be charged $5500 and lose their licence for two years. This law is designed to deter people from considering running from police due to the very real dangers to everyone involved in a pursuit. This offender received an absolute discharge – no fine, no loss of licence, NO PUNISHMENT AT ALL. It makes a mockery of the law when people entrusted with enforcing it completely ignore it.

So often, police are just chasing their tails. Especially in smaller communities, it is often the same idiots doing the same things, with no punishment, or punishment that has no effect on them. A $2500 fine for a football player who earns millions? Pointless. Granted, he has had the public embarrassment of having this go through the courts, but that is a side-effect rather than a punishment levelled by the courts.

I don’t think I can truly express my disgust for these types of decisions without using some of the expletives on the tip of my tongue. And these are just the ones that have popped into my field of view in the last couple of weeks, I didn’t go hunting for them. I suggest it happens on a daily basis at a courthouse near you. I’m going to assume magistrates are getting some sort of pressure from further up the chain – the jails are full after all. And I’m not saying everyone who makes an error deserves to go to jail. But there has to be another option.

Whilst I personally do not agree with capital punishment, I am all for a little corporal punishment. A lot can be learnt from a little hardship and suffering. I’d like to see punishments that have an impact on the offender. I’m thinking along the lines of graffiti offenders who have to remove their handiwork – some sort of system is apparently already in place for this. But although I have seen many people convicted of graffiti offences but I am yet to see anybody doing any actual scrubbing.

Actually, I’d like to see more cleaning in general.

How about traffic offenders spending time picking up rubbish on the side of the highway? It would give them a better appreciation for how fast 100km/h actually is and how small the margin for error.

How about drug offenders having to clean out the morgue after the autopsy of a person who died of a drug overdose? There’s a wake-up call.

I’d even settle for a slap over the wrist, as long as it was an actual slap over the actual offender’s wrist, possibly with a rubber thong or similar.

I know, I’m being silly now. But my point is it’s time to think outside of the square. There has to be another way to deter criminals. Because the system we’ve got now? It’s just not working.

Are police ‘trigger happy’?

It's not just target practice for police.

It’s not just target practice for police.

Queensland has had three fatal shootings by police in the last week. Scary figures. Cue the media headlines, distraught family members and training reviews.

So, are police trigger happy? No. Resoundingly NO. Let me explain.

Imagine the most stressful situation you’ve ever been in. Your heart is pounding so loudly that it nearly drowns out all the other sounds around you. Time feels like it has been sped up, except for you, you feel like the air is as thick as custard, weighing you down and making you move in slow motion. You gulp at the air, you can’t afford to pass out. Then you need to make a decision. NOW. NOW. NOW.

Chances are, it won’t be a well-considered thoughtful decision. It will be a gut reaction, an instinct. It will most likely be based on your training, movements that have been repeated often enough that NOW when your brain is not capable of conscious reasoning, this training will kick in and hopefully save your life. Possibly at the cost of someone else’s but that is the nature of the job. Police are trained to draw their guns for certain situations. If someone has the potential to kill or inflict grievous bodily harm on you, shoot them. Protect yourself. Stop the threat. Protect others. Don’t believe a person with a knife can’t kill you with one strike.

It takes about 1.5 to 2 seconds for a police officer to draw their gun and fire. That doesn’t sound like much, but a person can run about seven metres in that time. The action of the offender will always be faster than the officer’s reaction – the officer has to see the movement, choose a course of action, and put that course of action into motion, such as removing their weapon from its holster, and firing. So applying this theory, if a threat is closer than seven metres to them, forget about trying to shoot. Start running backwards to buy some time, or get ready to fight. Police are taught all of this, and it is all whirling around your brain, along with the stresses of the situation itself.

A police officer who is forced into that corner and does shoot someone then has their own crisis to deal with. Firstly, they’ve shot someone. They’ve killed a person. That have taken someone else’s life. Often the deceased’s family or friends may have witnessed the shooting. Imagine for a minute this tsunami of grief, anger and confusion crashing over the top of them, while they themselves are trying to come to terms with what has just happened. Police are not psychopaths (psychometric testing precludes them). This directly affects them too. It may horrify, disturb, and shock them – the same normal human reactions as anyone else involved. Then the bosses start to swarm. Whichever police officer was involved is removed, interviewed, photographed, swabbed and bombarded with questions. If the answers are wrong, then they may find themselves on trial. The whole experience can be and often is career ending.

Always, the cry goes up – why didn’t the police TASER the person instead of shooting them? Police are not taught to draw their TASER in most situations involving weapons because of the risk it involves. If one of the probes misses, they’re stuffed. If one of the probes does not ‘stick’ (hits a zipper or a doesn’t pierce a thick coat), they’re stuffed. They don’t have a second shot. Reloading takes 2 or 3 seconds. The aggressor will be on top of them and they’ll be fighting for your life. Yes, tasering a person may save their life, but it might cost the police officer theirs.

A high proportion of people shot by police are suffering from mental illness. It’s tragic but not something police can control. The person may have reached crisis point for reasons unknown to the attending police. They might not have followed through – no one will know. They were in the grips of psychosis and didn’t mean it. They’re misunderstood. They wouldn’t hurt a fly. You hear all these things in the aftermath.

Police just can’t afford the speculation. They can’t take that chance. Because police want to go home at the end of the shift. Because police have their families waiting at home. Because police are doing their jobs.

You pull a knife on a cop – you’re going to get shot. End of story. When the offenders can grasp that, that’s when these shootings will end.