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.

Is ignorance bliss?

Ferguson

No one wanted to live next door to Dennis Ferguson.

There is nothing quite like going to the shops with your kids and seeing one of the local pedophiles. And then the pedophile gives you a friendly smile and wave because he recognises you from the police station. Maybe your face just looks familiar to him or maybe he remembers your full name and registered number. Either way, how do you react? Aside from grabbing your children by the hand and pulling them closer. Do you ignore him and keep walking? Do you give him the evil eye? Do you point and yell “pedophile!”? Do you walk up to him, maintaining eye contact and tell him in a soft dangerous voice to take a good look at these children because if he ever touches them, you will rip off his testicles and feed them to him? Is it better to know who the evil menaces in your neighbourhood are, or to move through your community in blissful ignorance? Because – regardless of where you live – there are predators in your town. And due to privacy laws, no one can tell you who they are. Is it better to not know and give your children some freedom? Or will the knowledge drive you to become an over-protective helicopter parent?

It’s not just the peds. In my division I also know – who is most likely to sell your son drugs at high school, who will try and talk your teenage daughter into bed, who might try and king-hit your husband in the pub. In every community, there are people like them. Police officers deal with these types on a regular basis and although it may seem to us that the place is crawling with them, there are really not that many. They won’t touch the lives of most regular citizens. The chances of you or your loved ones being offended against by them are low. Your kids are more likely to be involved in a car accident or an act of self-inflicted stupidity. But criminals are out there. Do you want to know?

The case of pedophile Dennis Ferguson made the news on several occasions. Upon being released from jail after doing time for heinous crimes against the most vulnerable, he was the target of several vigilante mobs. Every time he moved somewhere, he was recognised and run out of town. This was eventually resolved by his death. I think part of the problem was the way he looked – once you’d seen him twitching and licking his lips on the news, you couldn’t forget him. He seemed instantly recognisable and completely repulsive. Was it fair though? He’d done his time. He has to live somewhere. Doesn’t he? Just not in my neighbourhood.

Rolf Harris offended for decades with impunity. There are people who don’t believe he is guilty (try googling ‘Rolf Harris innocent’), who believe he is a victim of a malicious witch hunt. These are people whose lives have been touched by the smiling entertainer rather than the calculating predator. How many people knew what he was up to? How many people guessed it but ignored it, not wanting to believe it was true because then it tainted every bright happy thing he had ever done?

I only have questions for you. No answers. I don’t believe there are any definitive solutions, only opinions. So what’s yours? Is ignorance easier?