May 5, 2014
Constable Chronicles: An Interview with an Australian Police Officer
Along the Central Coast of New South Wales, Australia, lives a gentleman whom I have dubbed The Constable. The generous police officer shared with me what a day in his life is like and also a few wild stories of public encounters and arrests. The Constable’s identity remains anonymous, but to enhance my readers’ imagination, I’ll add that he’s in his mid-20s and boyishly handsome. He cooks an amazing Rigatoni pasta dish and is a loving boyfriend and cat owner. I interviewed him and learned, among other things, how many times an Australian citizen can get caught with marijuana before charges are pressed. (I’ll give you a hint, it’s fewer than 10.) Read on to learn this and heaps more!
Day in the Life
The Constable begins every shift at either 6 a.m. or 6 p.m. where he’ll work for the next 12 hours. When he first arrives, he learns who he’s working with, which car he’s driving, and where he’ll be going. He heads out to his assigned location where he cruises around in either a sedan or a utility vehicle.
The Local Area Command or LAC stretches from Mooney Mooney to Ourimbah all the way to Wiseman’s Ferry. Each day in this region, the officers drive out to their tasked location and look for suspicious activity. They’ll go to an area that’s been previously identified, and they’ll then walk around and have a chat with people. Through these interactions, it’s easy for them to see if someone’s drugged up and dangerous.
“If you’re driving through the suburbs, it helps people know that it’s safe. People might even think there are more of us driving around than there actually are,” The Constable said.
While the officers drive around, they listen to the radio, via a system called a VKG which has become a backronym among his colleagues to stand for the Voice of King George. It’s not actually the voice of King George though; he died in 1727. The VKG is controlled by guided operators who direct the officers to incidents.
The Constable is highly involved with many people’s personal lives. He typically works with domestic related issues which include assaults, disputes between neighbours and disputes between spouses. He told me that often kids will ring up because their parents are fighting. TC deals with these issues numerous times a day.
“Sometimes you realise you’ve been to the same house before, and you think ‘not these guys again,”’ he said.
Batons and TASERS and Guns, Oh My!
Before interviewing TC, I didn’t know much about the police force, but I assumed that most officers have shot or killed a few people in their career. This assumption was very wrong. In the 18 months that The Constable has been an officer, he’s pulled his gun out only three or four times, and he’s never actually fired it.
“It’s a last resort for us,” he said. “The level of threat has to warrant it.”
This would have to be a level of threat that put his life in danger and would also have to mean the threatening individual couldn’t be stopped with a baton or TASER.
In regards to the public and guns, officers most commonly deal with guns when people surrender them to the station, often because the gun owner has passed away.
“I’ve never found a gun, never had a situation where a gun was pulled (on me),” he told me.
I can’t help but speculate if an officer in the US would have a similar story to The Constable’s.
TC also has what Aussies call capsicum spray, which is what Americans call pepper spray. He’s always got this, a gun, a baton and a TASER, but he’s never had a situation where he’s had to physically use them on another person. TC mentioned that when a person who’s aggressive or violent sees an officer, often he quickly calms down, especially when the officer speaks.
Connecting with Colleagues
The Constable has a very tightly woven team. His team has the most women officers in the region, a total of seven out of 24. The women are trained in the exact same way that men are, and there is no gender discrepancy when the officers are assigned partners for the day.
“I feel working with a female helps situations a lot more,” TC said. “If there’s a violent guy off his head, if a woman walks in first he calms down a bit.”
With the amount of time they all spend together, the team is connected on more than just a professional level. They see action happen together, and they patrol and pass time together.
“I’ve had some really interesting conversations at 3 or 4 in the morning when there’s not a lot happening,” he said. “We talk about money, politics, love and outer space.”
From Somber to Silly
This doesn’t mean his job’s all strolling neighbourhoods and deep conversations. In his 18 months, the hardest thing for The Constable to deal with has been the death of a four-year-old due to a car accident.
Suicide and self-harm are also incredibly emotionally intense experiences to deal with. He shared a story with me of a man who had tried to harm himself on the beach. The Constable and his colleague cradled and comforted him while they waited for the ambulance, and fortunately the man survived.
After intense situations like these, there’s always a debriefing, and counselling is always offered. Officers’ spouses and partners are also available for the counselling.
“We try to laugh a lot, it makes time go faster, and it does sound bad, but you have to find humour when you can,” The Constable said.
He shared a story of a situation at 3 a.m. when he was working with two colleagues, and they went to a house where a woman had requested help.
This was a very unique situation. This woman told the officers she could feel someone touching her feet.
As soon as they arrived, it was apparent that the woman suffered from either mental illness or drug use. She told the officers that “a man came down from a manhole, rubbed my feet and then went back to his manhole”. She then added that he didn’t have legs and was on a skateboard. This was going to be a tricky character to catch!
The officers did their best to hold in their laughter while on site, and they made sure the woman was safe and that no one was there. They all tried their best to be professional, but before they finished the search, one of them went outside and buried his face in his hands to supress his laughter. They confirmed the house was free of legless skateboarders and manholes, they left the visionary woman safe in her home, and they returned to their vehicle where they laughed uncontrollably.
“It was the most I’ve ever laughed in my entire life,” The Constable said.
Bad Guys and Bullies
I know in both the US and Australia, members of the public sometimes have negative experiences with cops. I asked The Constable if he knew any officers who he thought were bullies.
“Some people you can tell the power has gone to their head,” he told me. “They treat everyone the same, their tone of voice is the same for every single person.”
He said that conversely, the junior officers that come on will get walked all over by the more experienced force.
“Confidence is everything”, he said.
The officers are taught in training that 5% of the public will cause 95% of the problems, and it’s important to not let the small group of people they typically deal with affect their views on the majority of the Australian population.
The Constable told me that different drugs and different quantities can lead to different offenses. While selling or distributing large quantities of something like Ecstasy could send a person straight to jail, possessing small quantities of other drugs, at least at first, is no biggie.
The New South Wales Police Force has what they call a Cannabis Caution. Anyone who possesses (but doesn’t distribute) 15 grams or less of marijuana will often receive a Cannabis Caution not once, but twice before they get arrested. This does however depend on the individual’s situation their history and if any other offences were detected on the time of the arrest.
If TC wasn’t an officer, he said he’d alternatively try to get into film and screen writing, but he wanted to be a cop even as a child. He was raised by officers, and when he was growing up, he’d see his dad with emergency vehicles like fire ambulances and police cars. The Constable remembers being a child and watching his dad and thinking he’d like to be a police officer. The Constable believes he will stay in this field for the rest of his life.
“There are so many varieties and opportunities in the field,” he said. “There are jobs as mounted officers and detectives, jobs in diving, police rescue, and helicopters. I’d like to go into crash investigation. There are so many environmental and mechanical factors that can cause an accident. It seems simple, but it’s really quite complex.”
As an officer, The Constable gets six week’s paid leave annually. The pay scale for officers starts at $63,000 and goes to $100,000. Inspectors and chiefs can get up to $200,000 a year.
Learn More/Meet The Constable
I’m so grateful to The Constable for taking some time to speak openly with me for my 9 readers of coffeecavewoman.com. I wish him all the best in his exciting career, and if you’d like to learn more about the New South Wales Police Force, I recommend visiting this website. If you’d like to personally meet The Constable or one of his colleagues, just go cause some trouble down in Brisbane Water LAC. You won’t be disappointed.