In defence of protective behaviours

IMG_5120Violence against women (both inside and outside the home) is a disturbing and horrendous crime. The insidious and senseless death of Masa Vukotic has sent social media into a frenzy.

Women should be able to walk by themselves. Women should not be scared to go out at night. A woman is not asking for violence with whatever she might wear. Agree. Agree. Agree. I am, after all a woman too. And the mother of a girl.

I have also read several articles belittling police who have suggested protective behaviours. By this, I mean recommendations such as not wearing headphones when you’re walking alone, exercising in pairs, carrying a set of keys in your hand. They are paltry offerings and can be seen as condescending. Hence the backlash on social media.

The sad truth is, when it comes to policing random murderers, I’m sorry to say that’s all we’ve got. I wish there was something else. Tell me – how do you police psychopaths? You can attempt to recognise them and control them, but what are you going to do when they’re anonymously wandering around the neighbourhood?

But people expect a response from police. Unfortunately, protective behaviours are the limit of what’s in the police arsenal for this type of crime. Someone tell me differently. Please.

Yes, it shouldn’t be this way. Women should have the right to complete freedom. But even if there is a societal shift, if domestic violence is reduced, if women are afforded constant respect – even then there will still be these psychopaths who have something wrong in their brains, who have the capacity to commit these horrible soulless crimes.

The percentage of these people is minute. These murders are all over the news because thankfully, they’re tiny horrible exceptions. But they exist. And if you choose to exercise your right to walk anywhere, at any time, by yourself (I do myself) – then you need to have a Plan B somewhere in the back of your mind. It is the reason myself along with both of my children practice martial arts.

I believe in protective behaviours. For any one. Female or male, young or old. It’s not giving in or surrendering your rights. It’s an insurance policy. The same way you lock your house when you’re out, or put a seatbelt on in a car. It’s the acknowledgement that you can’t predict or control all eventualities. But you can try and protect yourself against them.

I want to share a first hand experience. I have travelled a lot overseas. By myself most of the time. Sometimes I did risky things.

Then one time, I was attacked.

I was on holidays in Africa, and visited the island of Zanzibar. The beach was just beautiful. Having spent a lot of time on buses, I decided to stretch my legs with a jog along the beach. None of my travelling companions wanted to, but why would that stop me? I left my money belt with my friends and off I jogged. There was no one around. I was in a world of my own, absorbed with my own thoughts. I didn’t even see the man move out of the bushes behind me. The first I knew was when he grabbed me from behind, pushing me forward into a headlock.

First was confusion. Was one of my friends having a joke with me? Then I saw bare black feet next to mine and I knew this was real.

I was a cop when this incident happened. I had been taught lateral vascular neck restraints. This is when you restrict the blood flow to the head by applying pressure to the neck, causing the person to faint. Our instructors like to tell us this is considered lethal force. Then they tell us to try it own on one another. So when my attacker had me in a head lock, I’d been in one before and my following thought was – he’s doing it wrong, he won’t make me pass out.

The next thing I did was probably what saved me. I did – anything. I did not freeze. I did not panic. I reacted. I tried to get him off me. I have always said, if the shit hit the fan, my ‘go to’ move would be to kick or strike the groin. I twisted to the side and brought my knee up to his testicles. But with a nightmarish slow-motion type of realisation, there was no strength in my kick and my aim was off. It didn’t collapse him to his knees like I hoped. But it was enough. The simple act of doing something – even something ineffectual – was enough. He let go of me.

I’m assuming he was after money. I had equivalent of about $3 in my pocket. I should have thrown it at him and been done with it. But it didn’t even cross my mind. He had let go of me, I was out of there. I started running. But it wasn’t panic running. I left at jogging pace.

He came after me.

I knew I couldn’t outrun some athletic-looking man. And there was no way I was going to let him jump me from behind again. So when he got closer. I stopped and turned around to face him. I put my fists up, I cocked my front leg ready to kick out and I yelled something at him. I can’t remember what it was, and he mightn’t have spoken English anyway. But it was enough. He was not prepared to fight. He turned and disappeared into the bushes again.

I had a slightly bruised throat and a hell of a story. It did not ruin my holidays. But it took me a long time to shake that sense of being ambushed from behind. Afterwards, all the other possible scenarios went through my mind. What if there were two of them? What if he had a knife? What if it wasn’t money he was after?

Consider the possibilities. Protect yourself.

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Pointless Punishments

gavel picIf there’s one thing that irritates police officers across the board, it is manifestly inadequate sentencing of offenders put before the court. I don’t think there’s a copper in the state who hasn’t said ‘what’s the point?’ when someone they worked hard to charge, gets let off with the proverbial ‘slap over the wrist’. The last couple of weeks have seen a few crass examples:

  • A football player charged with four counts of possession of cocaine is fined $2500 by the courts – and no conviction recorded (He paid the fine with spare change he found down the the back of the couch).
  • A police sergeant charged with possessing drugs (ice/steroids) and a pipe was fined $600 and no conviction recorded (You swear to serve and protect, you especially should be held to that standard).
  • An American involved with importing 85kg of cocaine and 192kg of methamphetamine and caught with $154,550 in cash had his charges negotiated and ended up getting just 12 months jail and then a tax-payer funded flight back home when his visa was cancelled. (Explain that one to Chan and Sukumaran).
  • And the one that made me gobsmacked enough to write this blog – a man successfully fled from police who tried to pull him over when they observed him driving erratically. He was not meant to be driving at the time. The law that the court is meant to be upholding states people who evade police, potentially causing a pursuit and potentially putting the lives of any other road user at risk must be charged $5500 and lose their licence for two years. This law is designed to deter people from considering running from police due to the very real dangers to everyone involved in a pursuit. This offender received an absolute discharge – no fine, no loss of licence, NO PUNISHMENT AT ALL. It makes a mockery of the law when people entrusted with enforcing it completely ignore it.

So often, police are just chasing their tails. Especially in smaller communities, it is often the same idiots doing the same things, with no punishment, or punishment that has no effect on them. A $2500 fine for a football player who earns millions? Pointless. Granted, he has had the public embarrassment of having this go through the courts, but that is a side-effect rather than a punishment levelled by the courts.

I don’t think I can truly express my disgust for these types of decisions without using some of the expletives on the tip of my tongue. And these are just the ones that have popped into my field of view in the last couple of weeks, I didn’t go hunting for them. I suggest it happens on a daily basis at a courthouse near you. I’m going to assume magistrates are getting some sort of pressure from further up the chain – the jails are full after all. And I’m not saying everyone who makes an error deserves to go to jail. But there has to be another option.

Whilst I personally do not agree with capital punishment, I am all for a little corporal punishment. A lot can be learnt from a little hardship and suffering. I’d like to see punishments that have an impact on the offender. I’m thinking along the lines of graffiti offenders who have to remove their handiwork – some sort of system is apparently already in place for this. But although I have seen many people convicted of graffiti offences but I am yet to see anybody doing any actual scrubbing.

Actually, I’d like to see more cleaning in general.

How about traffic offenders spending time picking up rubbish on the side of the highway? It would give them a better appreciation for how fast 100km/h actually is and how small the margin for error.

How about drug offenders having to clean out the morgue after the autopsy of a person who died of a drug overdose? There’s a wake-up call.

I’d even settle for a slap over the wrist, as long as it was an actual slap over the actual offender’s wrist, possibly with a rubber thong or similar.

I know, I’m being silly now. But my point is it’s time to think outside of the square. There has to be another way to deter criminals. Because the system we’ve got now? It’s just not working.

Police Remembrance Day

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September 29 is Police Remembrance Day.

Today is National Police Remembrance Day – a day to remember police officers who have died whilst on duty.

It is a day of conflicting emotions for me. Pride – to be part of the organisation whose charter is to put the welfare of others above themselves. A sense of belonging – we are a team, in this together. Sadness – families robbed of a loved one, often so needlessly. Trepidation – whose turn will it be next? Someone I know? Me?

Today in particular, I remember Detective Senior Constable Damian Leeding. His tragic death in 2011 struck a note with me. Maybe because he too was the father of two young children. He was on duty, responding to a triple 0 call for help – an armed hold-up at a tavern. As he ran towards the tavern, he was shot in the face by one of the robbers. This murderer was a career criminal. He had committed armed hold-ups before, using the same shotgun that killed DSC Leeding.

So what was worth enough to take a man’s life? About $16,000. That was the amount of money recovered in nearby bushland, the proceeds of the armed robbery. Presumably to be shared amongst the three persons involved in the robbery. So a bit more than $5000 each. That is the price a criminal put on a police officer’s life. A paltry piddling sum. It might have paid for some rent, some groceries, some booze, some drugs. Not necessarily in that order. Definitely not a life-changing amount of money. But that day, this murderer changed the lives of so many forever. DSC Leeding left behind a wife and two children, both of whom were so young they may have no direct memories of their father. He was just 35 years old.

Police are often maligned. I myself often go out of my way in my private life not to reveal what I do for a living. I will often describe my occupation as ‘public servant’ and try not to elaborate on that. You never know what sort of reaction you will get from people. That said, I think most people have respect for police, or at least the job police do. Most people can look past the undeserved traffic ticket or a rude individual hiding behind the badge and see the bigger picture. Police play an important role in society, working for the greater good, far beyond shutting down noisy parties or giving tickets to jaywalkers.

When the proverbial hits the fan and you are caught in a genuine emergency, nothing will sound quite as sweet as the police sirens drawing closer.

When your back is to the wall and a police officer comes rushing to your defence, blue will suddenly become your favourite colour.

When there is a disaster and everyone is trying to flee and escape, it is police, and usually ambos and firies too, who head towards the trouble.

It takes a certain type of person to do that. Even those officers who have not been called to a serious job are still prepared to do it. They have pledged to take on every challenge. And each day we turn up to work, we make that same commitment to any job the shift might bring – to serve, to protect, to help.

And that’s why Police Remembrance Day is important.

Is ignorance bliss?

Ferguson

No one wanted to live next door to Dennis Ferguson.

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

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

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

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

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