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?

Miles pic

This has generated lots of passionate discussion on social media.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bikies and the VLAD laws

bikie pic

Not in Queensland. Image credit ABC News

Bikies are bad. It’s that simple.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gender equality in policing?

tall and short

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why you should buy an Aussie book for Christmas

 

Oz madeOne hundred thousand books. When I told a friend that my book had been published, that was her first guess as to how many copies had been printed. First it made me laugh. Then it made me a little sad. She thought by having a book published, I would then be able to leave my ‘day job’ as a police officer and be a full-time writer. How very wrong she was.

I have learnt that being a writer in Australia has to be treated as a hobby. It is extremely difficult to make a living out of writing, especially if you have regular bills to pay. You know,the little things – food, mortgage, internet connection.

I’m not whinging. I’m one of the lucky ones. My book is on the shelves. My story is being read. And that, actually, is what this post is about. We need to keep local books on the shelves. Writers are up against it, and with the government continuing to tighten the screws through proposed changes to copyright laws, life as an Aussie mid-list author is financially untenable.

But Australians need Australian books. We need books about places we know, characters we recognise. We need slang and shared history. We need stories by the people who know us – Australian authors. Like music and television, it is easy for suppliers to turn to the USA or Europe and start importing. But stories, along with other artistic works, help to create our unique identity.

So, for Christmas this year, consider buying an Australian book. A novel is the perfect gift. There’s one to suit everyone – all ages, all interests. A book is like a little holiday, an escape into another world. It will stay with you after you’ve closed the cover. Who can remember a favourite story they read as a kid? A great book will stay with you for the rest of your life.

Buy a book as a Christmas present for yourself. Buy one for that relative no-one ever knows what to get. Buy a book for a child – your own, someone else’s or maybe even a child you don’t know via one of those wishing trees. Every kid I know has enough bits of plastic crap. Buy a book because most of us are fortunate enough to have some disposal income. Just buy an Australian book.

When you pick up a book, you’re also holding someone’s dream in your hands. Every one of those books on the shelves has had innumerable hours put into it by countless people. First there’s the author, but then there are editors, designers, printers, publicists and that’s not even close to everyone.

We often talk about buying local so small businesses don’t disappear. That applies to books as well.

Support an author. Buy a book this Christmas.

Like reading crime? My novel, A Time To Run, was written in Queensland, edited in NSW and printed in Victoria.

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.