This article is just the tip of the iceberg of some jobs that Police Officers can experience in a typical shift. To show you more of what I mean, this is a recount of my first shift as a Constable in the Queensland Police Service on Monday the 8th of December, 1997.
Get to the station early, get my kit together, book out all the equipment for the shift, find my Field Training Officer (FTO) and then do a bit of a driving tour around Redcliffe and get to know the place. That was my initial plan for my first shift as a fresh-faced 22-year-old Constable.
It took all of about one minute for that plan to be shattered!
Standing in the ‘Constables Day Room’ simply waiting for my FTO to collect me like a kid starting his first day at school I was feeling slightly proud of myself for managing to find, and book out all of the required equipment for my first shift.
All of a sudden, a Sergeant burst into the room and with a deep bellowing pommy voice he screamed ‘Who is on day-shift?’. My FTO appeared and nominated us as the day crew. We were told there was a serious traffic crash just outside our Police division, and were then tasked to attend the Redcliffe Hospital Code 2, and collect a Trauma Team, and get them to the crash scene as fast as possible.
As fast as possible, Code 2? WOW this meant my first job was a lights and siren job. How awesome was this I can remember thinking to myself. Having a Code 2 job as my first ever job meant we were going lights and sirens all the way. I was pumped!
We threw our kit in the Police car and off we went up to the hospital and collected the two-person Trauma Team who were waiting in the Emergency Section.
Being a First-Year Constable my job was to operate the Police radio and work the lights and sirens whilst my FTO drove. Easy, except when I looked at the control box for the lights and sirens there was nothing to tell you what switch did what.
It was simply a black box with a series of black switches that moved forwards and backwards, each making the lights and sirens do something different. While I played with them trying to work out which way to flick them to get everything working my partner gave me a lesson on how to drive at 160klms/hr in an 80klm/hr zone in morning peak hour traffic.
Trying to give the Police Communications Room updates on the radio was harder than I thought. What do I say, when do I say it? This is so different from when I was at the academy. My mouth was dry and the words simply were not coming out, so my partner took over that role as well as driving at speeds up to 160klms/hr.
I could hear some groans from the back seat so I turned to see the two Trauma Team members being flung around in the back of the car. They were not enjoying the high-speed driving combined with the ducking and weaving around cars and the changing of lanes and decided it was time to finally put on their seat belts.
I can remember thinking, I’ve done the training at the academy for this. I had my high-viz vest with me, I am sure I can direct some traffic. How hard can it be? I have got this!
As we made our way to up to the crash site I could see a car had clearly crashed in to a telegraph pole and there were people working on the car.
The Trauma Team members were literally white in the face after their back-seat racing car experience. They proceeded to tell us that even though they had no way back, they were definitely not getting back in a car with us and that they would find their own way back to the hospital.
With my high-viz vest and my Police hat on I found myself standing in the middle of the roadway just near the crashed car. It was hot and although it was only mid-morning I could feel the sun burning me on my legs through my long blue pants.
I could see the thick shiny black polish on the tips of my boots and feel the heat from the road radiating up through them onto the soles of my feet. The sweat was running down the inside the back of my shirt because the high-viz vest I was wearing was acting like a jumper.
It was then when my partner appeared with two young children and told me to stay there and mind them until another Ambulance arrived. It was at this time he also told me that their mother had passed away in the crash and her body was still trapped in the car.
This is when my world changed!
My job was to mind the two young kids who were bleeding out of their nose and ears and keep them occupied until another Ambulance could arrive to treat them. They were clearly in shock and had no idea that their mum had died in the crash.
All of my training at the academy had not prepared me for this. How do you occupy two young kids who are in shock and continually asking for their mum? At 22 years of age, I simply had no-idea and was not prepared at all.
Seeing their mum’s body being removed from the crumpled car whilst trying to continually talk to them so they would not see it as well, was heart breaking.
My voice quivered and my eyes teared up whilst talking to them, as I kept telling them over and over again, that it was all going to be OK. But I knew it wasn’t, two young kids had just lost their mum forever.
What the hell had I signed up to, is what was running through my head as I wiped the tears from my eyes and handed the two young kids over to the Ambulance officers. We didn’t practice this at the academy.
With the kids safely in the back of the Ambulance our role in that job was over and it was time to head back.
As we made our way back to our Station we got a call on the Police radio to divert and assist the Criminal Investigation Branch (CIB) with the search of a car.
With the adrenalin still pumping we rocked up to a house to find two burly Detectives dismantling the inside of a new hire-car with their bare hands. They had intercepted a car load of professional drug-runners who were suspected of using new hire cars to transport hard drugs such as amphetamines, cocaine and also handguns.
These were not your usual run-of-the-mill criminals, they were cunning, hardened and hated the Police with a passion. With my bright new uniform, equipment, and fresh face, I stood out as a newby a mile away.
So, came the taunts and threats to test me out to see if I could hold my mettle amongst real criminals in the real world.
What an eye-opener, I had no idea what I was looking for as I had only seen what amphetamines and cocaine looked like in photographs. After finding a heap of used and new syringes and some strange syrup in a jar (That’s another story), we transported two of the drug-runners back to the Police Station.
After finishing at the Station, we were then sent straight to a domestic violence incident where a male person had kicked his pregnant partner in the stomach.
Once at the house we were straight in through the front door, and after a brief scuffle we had the male person in handcuffs. His injured partner was ushered into the back of an Ambulance to be taken to hospital to be checked out.
Back at the station we interviewed the man about why he had kicked his obviously pregnant partner in the stomach. His reason, was that he had a gut full of drugs and that he was arguing with his partner about spending the rest of their food money on more drugs. He then proceeded to tell us that he had shared the initial drugs with his pregnant partner and that it was not enough and that he wanted more.
With him safely locked up in the watchouse we proceeded to ring the emergency section at the hospital and give them the news that their pregnant patient was also drug dependent.
What a cracking first ever shift as a Police Officer, surely this was a once off and things would be different on my second day?
How wrong I was!
This amazing, exhilarating and sometimes downright life threatening ride went on for 13 more years until my brain could no longer handle it anymore.
My nerves could no longer take the extreme rushes of adrenalin that comes with chasing armed offenders or the sadness associated with searching for body parts or giving death messages.
Police Officers can, and do experience on any given day similar and much worse situations than I have explained in this article. This article simply outlined what I experienced on my first ever shift as a Police Officer.
Police Officers are human beings that deal with atrocities that most people will only ever read about or see on television.
The perspective that I have commonly used for friends and family is that Police deal with the bottom 10% of the population 90% of the time, and the other 90% of the population only 10% of the time.
Furthermore, most normal everyday people will never deal with that bottom 10% of the population unless they break into your house or steal your car.
Policing is a hard and for most times an unforgiving job, but none the less it is a job that has to be done.
I hope this article opens your mind and heart to some of the challenges that our Police face everyday, and how these challenges can have detrimental effects on their mental health.
Stuart Rawlins | Healthy Mind Healthy Future
Mental Health | Educator | Speaker | Writer