Excerpt – ‘An Unwatched Minute’

There’s been strong interest in my new novel ‘An Unwatched Minute’, a police procedural about the fallout from a death in custody at a small police station. Here is a short excerpt to whet readers’ appetites.

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“A sharp metallic bang roused Karen Cornell from a deep dreamless sleep. Although her eyes snapped open, she held the rest of her body still, waiting for the next noise. A man’s voice. A single shout.

Simon didn’t stir. He had learnt to sleep through it all. She envied him.

She heard a familiar voice speaking quietly, but magnified by the peace of the night. She shut her eyes again. Everything was under control. Nothing for her to worry about.

This was the downside to living right next door to the police station.

As the officer in charge of the police station, her husband wasn’t obliged to live in the service residence right next door but it was free rent and the world’s shortest commute. And even though she wasn’t a police officer and whatever went on at the station was really none of her concern, she could not count the hours of lost sleep it had cost her. She was a light sleeper, a habit she had learnt when her kids were young, but which she didn’t seem to be able to unlearn now they were teenagers and could tend to their own needs at night.

Although her knee itched, Karen held still and pretended she was asleep. Hopefully in a minute or two, she would be again.

The next set of sounds she could easily recognise. It was the handle latch of the paddy wagon being lifted and the door being pushed open. God, she’d been living here too long to be able to identify that. Just one of the side-effects of being a copper’s wife. She wished they could move back to their own house in Brisbane. It was in a quiet street and they were in the catchment for a great school for the kids to finish their high schooling in. Simon kept saying they wouldn’t have to be patient too much longer, it was just a matter of time before he got his promotion back to Brisbane.

There was a dull thud outside and then another. A hissed whisper. Footsteps, two voices, then the sound of someone vomiting. Thank god they weren’t close enough to get the smell from that. She shifted, stretching her legs out and rolling onto her back keeping her eyes loosely shut.

It wasn’t until afterwards – when the yelling for help got her husband out of bed, and the ambulance had come and gone – that Karen realised she’d heard a man die.”

Available through Amazon worldwide. Australian readers can buy it here.

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My new book – An Unwatched Minute

You haven’t heard much from me lately but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been working. Working x 2, in fact – after many years of working part-time as a police officer to be home with my kids, a change in my circumstances has seen me return to full-time shift work. I’m back on the road as a first-responder, bouncing from domestic violence incidents to traffic accidents to burglaries. So writing has been on the back burner. The publishing industry is a cut-throat one and after a couple of false starts, an attempted genre change and no success with traditional publishers, I’ve decided to self-publish a new book online through Amazon/Kindle.

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Available on Amazon

‘An Unwatched Minute’ showcases what I do best – it’s a police procedural. After twenty years as a police officer in Queensland, Australia, I can take readers behind the scenes of a police station and provide a unique insight into police culture. ‘An Unwatched Minute’ revolves around a death in custody and the ensuing police investigation which has far-reaching repercussions for the local police, as well as the family of the dead man.

You can buy ‘An Unwatched Minute’ here (Aus) or here (USA) or your local Amazon site.

On top of releasing this new story, I am also in a position where I can take charge of my previous stories. In the very near future, I will be releasing ‘A Time To Run’ and ‘The Twisted Knot’ for online audiences world wide. I personally prefer holding an actual book in my hands so I’m researching print-on-demand options as well. Good news for those people who have enquired about ‘A Time To Run’ which has been out of stock for a while now.

So stay tuned, there’s more to come…

 

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’.

Kids and social media

First published on Mamamia 31/1/2016

img_6848My son recently came home from school asking to have a look at Instagram. He told me one of his classmates had said he’d put my son’s photo up and he wanted to know if it was true. Neither of us have an account but it’s easy to create one and we quickly found the photo. It appeared innocuous. My son and two of his friends, smiling for the camera, taken after school.

BUT – the account was set to ‘public’ meaning anyone can see the pictures. Over a thousand people were following the account. My son was wearing his school uniform. With the logo visible and readable. One of the other boys in the photo had no shirt on at all. I was alarmed. Because – and here’s the unfathomable part – my son is eight years old. The owner of the public Instagram account is seven.

I was flabbergasted. Outraged. Upset. But mostly baffled.

Surely this boy’s mother either did not realise her son’s account was public? Or she did not understand the inherent risks in letting a young boy have unregulated social media accounts? As a police officer, I have seen first-hand how gullibility and inexperience can lead much older and wiser people into the dark and twisty depths of the world-wide-web.

I spoke to some of my colleagues at the police station about it and we agreed this was a matter of education. I grabbed a brochure on cyber safety and approached the boy’s mother at the school gate that afternoon. The conversation I had with her left me more baffled than I began with.

Yes, of course she knew the boy’s account was public. She set it to private, but he changed it back to public. She said it as if that was the end of that. There’s nothing you can do about your seven year old’s social media settings? Really?

Yes, she knew he had over a thousand followers. They’re all just other kids of course, she told me. Are you kidding me? Are you naïve or optimistic?

Yes, he had his own phone, data and social media accounts but she regulated it all. The photo of my son and friends had been on the account for several weeks. So you think it’s okay to post photos of other people’s topless seven year olds to public accounts? How good is your regulation?

No, she didn’t need the brochure on cyber safety, she knew all about that. If you understood cyber safety, would we be having this conversation? Do you think I’m doing this for laughs?

I didn’t say all those things to her. It was all very polite, but I walked away from it shaking my head in bewilderment.

I told the school, but knew already there was little they could do. The photo was taken outside of school hours. The boy always kept his phone in his schoolbag until after school was finished.

The whole thing led to some interesting conversations in our household – conversations I didn’t think I’d need to have for years. My kids will only be allowed to have phones and (regulated) social media accounts once they are in high school. But I’ve found out the hard way that this does not mean they may not already be affected by the issues surrounding social media.

To make things crystal clear – paedophiles use these social media sites. We know this. Police find the images along with child pornography. They use places like Instagram to ‘collect’ photos, groom children, blackmail children or in the worst case scenario, track children. They sell or trade photos of children. They attempt to engage with children – it may start with complimentary comments on photos and lead to private messages and beyond. Occasionally, they may become obsessed with a child. Depending on what information they can glean from the account, they may have the child’s name, names of family members, the school they attend, the area they live in and sports teams they play on. They can hang out in a public place, watch for the child they already have pictures of and call out the child’s name to try to lure them. This is an extreme scenario that almost never happens. But the fact that it could happen, that all this information is accessible by creepy strangers should be enough to give a parent goosebumps. Especially when the child is too young to even understand there is something they need to protect themselves from.

Parents must educate themselves before allowing their children to have social media access. If they rely on what their child is telling them, or their own best guess, they are leaving their children exposed.

Fortunately, the same internet that can pose the dangers, can also offer valuable advice. The e-version of the cyber safety brochure I gave the other mother is available on the Queensland Police website at https://www.police.qld.gov.au/programs/cscp/personalSafety/children/childProtection/.

There is also loads of useful information at www.cybersmart.gov.au.

img_6848Educate yourself. Educate your children. Don’t pretend the predators aren’t lurking out there.

 

When can a child walk to school by themselves?

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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.

Reviews for ‘The Twisted Knot’

I have been fortunate that ‘The Twisted Knot’ has been reviewed in many places in the press as well as on several blogs and has been so well-received. Here are links to some of the things written about ‘The Twisted Knot’.

Great review here and interview here by Marcia at Book Muster Down Under.

A review in Carpe Librum here.

Starts At 60 with a review here and a Q&A here.

A review by Carol at Reading, Writing and Riesling here.

Extensive review at All The Books I Can Read here.

Kind words here from Debbish.

This review here by Sam Still Reading.

A review here and Q&A here at Gabby The Blogger.

Pop.Edit.Lit with a review here and Q&A here.

An interview with Annie Gaffney on ABC Sunshine Coast Radio here.

‘The Twisted Knot’ cover reveal

Come July 1, 2016 – you can keep an eye out for this at your local bookstore!

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The Twisted Knot will be released on July 1, 2016

My second novel, ‘The Twisted Knot’, has gone to the printers ready for its upcoming release. This sequel to ‘A Time To Run’ follows Constable Sammi Willis as she returns to active duties in Angel’s Crossing. She gets tangled up in the death of a pedophile where all is not as it seems.

The plot of this story will keep you guessing along with Sammi, as she investigates a suspected suicide, which takes some dark turns. I was particularly pleased when one of the editors said she gasped when the main plot twist was revealed.

Although this book is quite different to ‘A Time To Run’, I still bring the authentic police voice to the story. I’ve lived this life – policing in a small town.

I just love this cover – the brooding sky, the sinister shed. There’s a real sense of foreboding. I can’t wait for the release, to see what readers think.

 

 

 

 

 

Bikies and the VLAD laws

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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?

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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.

Gun laws in Australia

I have never had this happen to me. Photo credit www.adelaidenow.com.au

I have never had this happen to me. Photo credit http://www.adelaidenow.com.au

There’s lots of things to love about living in Australia, but as a police officer, our gun laws would have to be one of the top reasons. Every time I see an article or a news report about gun crime in the USA, I thank my lucky stars I work in Australia.

In sixteen years of policing, I have NEVER drawn my gun at a job (only ever at training). I have TWICE been at a job where my partner has drawn their gun (one of those times, I completely disagreed with my partner). I have NEVER had a gun drawn on me. I have NEVER arrested a person to find afterwards they were armed with a gun. I’m just guessing here, but find me an American cop who can say that.

In the US, they go to work with body armour on. We pack a bulletproof vest into the back of the police car. They have to assume every person they come across is armed. Yes – we’re meant to assume that too. We are taught that people are either a high threat (if you can see the weapon) or an unknown threat (if you can’t see their weapon). But the weapon is more likely going to be a knife or a jemmy bar in Australia. There just aren’t that many guns around. The bikies have them, but they’re smart enough to use them on each other and pretty much no-one else.

I think this creates a different attitude towards guns. Although I can strip my Glock and put it back together again, I am not comfortable with it. If I did draw my gun, it would be a major event for me. And it is considered serious enough that internal rules state I would have to put a report on about it. Forget pulling any trigger – simply drawing my Taser out of its holster also warrants a report.

I believe all of this fosters a greater respect for guns. Add to that Australia’s stringent gun laws and the result is that gun crime in Australia is minimal.

In 1996, there was a horrible massacre in Tasmania, where a single person of dubious intellectual capacity managed to obtain a number of weapons and commit mass murder. This resulted in a public outcry. The government responded swiftly with strict gun laws enforced nationally. There was a gun buyback scheme and weapons amnesties to either reduce or register firearms across the country. Since then, it is difficult to obtain a licence for a semi-automatic, an automatic weapon or a handgun. Even obtaining a licence for a rifle is expensive and time-consuming.

In Queensland, a weapon’s licence application fee is $94.55 and an extra $31.20 for every year you want to hold the licence for. So an application plus a ten year licence will set you back in excess of $400. Add to that another $100-odd for a safety course. And that’s just the licence. Then you need a permit to acquire a weapon. This currently costs $35.70 per weapon, and each permit is issued for one particular firearm only. People regularly express dismay at the cost and the lengthy process involved – sometimes it can take months. But as a police officer, I’m all for it. I would rather have this restrictive expensive system than one where everyone gets a gun.

Weapon’s licences can also be revoked at any time and guns can be removed from their owners. If people’s licences expire, police will come and take their guns. They then have the opportunity to renew their licence and retrieve their guns or they can arrange for the legal disposal of their guns. If they do nothing, after ninety days, police have the right to destroy the guns. If a Domestic Violence Order is taken out against someone, that person’s guns are removed for the duration of the order (usually two years). They can sign them over to someone else, or pay to store them at a gun dealer for that time period. But there is no guarantee they will be able to get a new licence after the two years are up. Depending on the circumstances, they may be deemed by the Weapons Licencing Bureau as not being a ‘suitable’ person to hold a gun licence. In general, anyone may be deemed as not being a ‘suitable’ person. This is open to definition and may, of course be contested, but the guns are seized and held in safekeeping until a determination is made.

It really is a privilege to have the authority to own a gun, a weapon that can casually kill a person with little effort and no training. I’m so grateful it is treated that way in Australia.