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.

A message to the parents of young children

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 on earth did I get published?

IMG_5369I’ve asked myself this question many many times since signing my contract. I was an unknown, appearing out of nowhere, offering up the electronic equivalent of a ream of paper – “here’s this book wot I wrote.” And now I’m a published author. How did this happen? Why me?

There is a woman who works at my local shopping centre who looks like a publisher. Specifically, she looks like one particular editor from a major publishing house. This editor showed a lot of interest in my manuscript, only to reject it after I’d been on tenterhooks for several months. Every time I see her doppelganger at the shops, I give her a smile. She always smiles back because I am a customer and that is her job. But I smile because every time I see her, I think about how lucky I am that my manuscript has actually been published. Because I do believe there is a fair bit of luck involved. Not only luck – I’ll give myself a little credit for producing a readable and marketable novel. But hundreds of writers across the country are producing readable, marketable novels and they’re not all getting published. Why me?

I spoke to an agent once. She was very interested in my manuscript. She didn’t remember having seen this previously. This is the conversation I had with her –

Me: “How does a debut author attract the attention of an agent?”

Agent: “Well, you’re doing everything right. I’m interested.”

Me: “You know you turned this manuscript down a few months ago?”

Agent: “This same manuscript?”

Me: “Yes.”

Agent: “Oh, sorry, I must have been having a bad day.”

A bad day? My literary ambitions had (at that time) been knocked flat by yet another rejection because the agent was “having a bad day”. Or I was rejected without her even bothering to look at it. Either way, it goes to show how fickle this business is. Something dismissed one day can be loved the next. I still don’t have an agent. How do you successfully tread the fine line between persistence and backing yourself, and being a pain in the neck?

I know many fine writers with way more experience/ qualifications/ talent than me who are not getting published. So why am I? I have given this a lot of thought. Sometimes, I almost feel guilty, as if my place should belong to someone more worthy.

The best I can tell, there are two reasons working in my favour. The first is my ‘point of difference’. I am a police officer. I know the procedures, I know the culture, I know the people. So the voice of authority comes through in my writing. It was an easy choice for me as a police officer to write crime. I’d like to think every writer has a story that they are the best possible person to tell it.

The second is that it’s not just about the story you wrote, it is also about ‘your story’. The author platform. Publishers seem to be looking for the complete package. A website has to exist, there has to be a social media presence. And, seriously, if I can do it, anyone can.

Then the best you can do is cross your fingers and persevere.

Online book launch and giveaway

Tomorrow, I can take4 out my bucket list and tick something off.

“Have a book published” has been a life ambition since I was a teenager. And on the 1st of July 2015 my debut novel A Time To Run is officially released by Pan Macmillan. So close now…

To celebrate, I’m having an online launch through Facebook on Thursday 2 July. Everybody is welcome. Due to my double life/ assumed identity issues, I won’t be doing anything in person. Instead I’m going to hang out online and give away some books.

So drop by my author page ‘JM Peace Author’ on Facebook between 7:30pm and 9pm EST. There’ll be competitions and guests. You can wear your pyjamas and ugg boots. I know I will be.

Then stay tuned here for my ongoing blog tour. Exciting times.

“The views expressed in this website are those of the author and are not those of any police service.”

Blog Tour – A Time to Run

My Debut novel A Time to Run is available on June 30. Photo by Sheree Tomlinson

My debut novel A Time to Run is available on June 30. Photo by Sheree Tomlinson

As many readers of this blog will know, next month I publish my debut novel, A Time to Run (available June 30).

Set in the Queensland bush, A Time to Run is a tense, gritty crime thriller featuring a cop-turned-victim and a chilling serial killer.

The hunt is on
A GRUESOME GAME
A madman is kidnapping women to hunt them for sport.
A FRANTIC SEARCH
Detective Janine Postlewaite leads the investigation into the disappearance of Samantha Willis, determined not to let another innocent die on her watch.
A SHOCKING TWIST
The killer’s newest prey isn’t like the others. Sammi is a cop. And she refuses to be his victim.
A RUN FOR YOUR LIFE

Over the coming weeks I will be stopping by a number of fantastic Australian book blogs to talk about the book and answer some great questions. Be sure to follow my stops along the way and join the conversation using the #atimetorun hashtag!

Blog tour

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