Shit magnets and the Q-word

shit magnets

Are you a shit magnet? Warn your colleagues with a handy patch available from online retailers.

Just about every police officer I have ever worked with shares the same small superstition. During the shift, no one dares to say the word ‘quiet’. The sentence – “Wow, we’re having a really quiet shift” – or variations thereof, is strictly forbidden. If you do say the     Q-word, and you then get called to anything more serious than a shoplifter, you are immediately given the blame. And you will be reminded of it throughout the rest of the shift plus named and shamed to anyone who asks how your shift is going.

It is acceptable to say it five minutes out from the end of your shift when the next crew is kitted up and ready to go. You can have a little fun and say it to them then. ‘Yeah, we had a really quiet shift. Hope yours is quiet too.” Then you give a little chuckle and make yourself scarce, because you just infected their shift with the Q-word.

It’s a silly little superstition and there’s actually next to no proof that it is real. More experienced coppers know that the real way to gauge how busy your shift will be is by whether or not you are partnered up with a ‘shit magnet’. A shit magnet is an officer who, through no apparent fault of their own, is always in the middle of the action when the big jobs go down. They will start their shift by warming up with an armed robbery before finishing big with a double murder.

People skulk around in the locker rooms before their shift saying things like – “Do I have to work with [insert officer name here]? S/he’s a real shit magnet, we’re going to get smashed.”

The shit magnet will almost always deny being a shit magnet, but anyone partnered up with them will recognise it and try to bribe the roster clerk so they never work with them again. The only officers keen to work with a shit magnet are generally those with a minimum of service and an overabundance of enthusiasm, who want to ‘experience’ everything the Job has to offer. Every station needs these officers.

I myself am pleased to be an anti-shit-magnet. Through good luck rather than good management, I have a special knack for avoiding the big jobs. The officers on the shift after mine are at risk of it all going pear-shaped, because shit happens daily, just not on my watch. I haven’t managed to identify what makes me teflon-coated but when I do, I shall bottle it and become rich. In the meantime, I’ll make the most of kicking back to watch the big jobs on the local news, rather than seeing them first-hand.

I’ll make the most of my quiet shifts… damn it… I said the Q-word… I only have myself to blame now…

 

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‘A Time To Run’ update

My award winning novel ‘A Time To Run’ is now available online worldwide through Amazon, iBooks and other retailers. The second ‘Constable Sammi Willis’ novel – ‘The Twisted Knot’ will be online shortly. I’m excited to be able to offer these to an international audience after its success in Australia.

There’s not many serving police officers writing crime – I can offer an intimate insight into policing in Australia.

Buy it here or at your local online retailer.

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Guns and policing: an Australian perspective

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I’ve never had to draw my firearm in 20 years of service as a police officer.

I’ve been following the case of US police officer Mohamed Noor, who shot and killed Justine Damond after she approached his police car. The court proceedings received a bit of air-time in Australia due to Ms Damond being an Australian citizen. Also, the tragic facts of the case made for compelling subject matter.

As a police officer, I tried to put myself in Mr Noor’s position and think how I might have reacted. Night-time in a dark alleyway, a sudden noise, a figure at the side of the car.

Although I’ve been a police officer for twenty years, I’ve worked only in Australia, and there is no comparison. One crucial difference to policing in the two countries deeply impacts a situation like that – the prevalence of and attitude towards guns. That gun culture has a huge flow-on on effect to the way police approach their duties.

In twenty years, I have NEVER drawn my service weapon, except at training. I have only once been to a job where my partner has felt compelled to draw his weapon (I thought he over-reacted). From this, you can guess that I have never been confronted with a person armed with a weapon. I could count on one hand the number of times I have found a firearm at the scene after the offender is safely in cuffs.

I don’t know of any officer who wears a personal bullet proof vest. We have station-issue vests in different sizes which we put in the back of the police car. If we get sent to a job where there is a firearm involved, we stop before we get there and put the vest on. I can think of only three occasions I’ve worn it in earnest.

My experiences aren’t unusual. Guns on the street in Australia are unusual.

If I was confronted by a person in a dark alley, it wouldn’t occur to me that I might be ambushed. Sure, we’re taught that every situation is high risk or unknown risk. There is no such thing as low risk as you never know what is going to happen next. That said, I wouldn’t approach the job as if I may be randomly shot. A bang on the window would not have me reaching for my gun. That may be complacent and dangerous but, frankly, the odds are in my favour.

A Google search shows there were two police killed on duty in Australia in 2017. Of these, only one was shot. I had to go back to 2017 because there were zero shooting deaths of police in 2018 and 2019 to date. Nineteen police officers have been shot and killed in the line of duty in the USA so far this year (May 2019).

I can’t imagine what it would be like to have to assume everyone you deal with is armed. It would skew every decision you made every time you dealt with anyone.

I can’t imagine how much more difficult the challenging job of policing would be with the potential threat of firearms at every job.

I can’t put myself in Mr Noor’s shoes that night because I come from a completely different policing background.

I can’t imagine being a police officer in America. I can only hope Australia’s gun laws stay strict. I want to leave my gun in its holster for the next twenty years.

Buy ‘A Time to Run’ here.

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.

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’ through Amazon here.

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.

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.