If a police officer faced off with a gunman outside a police station in a large city – say, Sydney – all hell would break loose. Cops everywhere.
If that happened, you’d expect to hear these words in the aftermath:
“The criminality here is extreme.”
“It’s a very unusual event, but something that really concerns us.”
“The police are trained every day and they know they’re in a dangerous and challenging role, but this is really extreme.”
We did hear that from NSW Police Deputy Commissioner Jeff Loy following a deadly incident with a gunman outside Penrith Police Station, in western Sydney, in 2019.
But what if the same situation occurred in an unnamed regional town? OK, let’s dial it down – not broad daylight but, say, in the middle of the night.
Perhaps an officer happened to be crossing a street from one police building to another. That officer comes face-to-face with a gunman who may or may not have been standing in the middle of the street.
For the officer it is no less threatening. It’s the same for any other duty officers alerted to the situation.
For any members of the public walking in the vicinity of that street at that time of night, also pretty threatening.
The situation is likely brought under control quickly, but not without tragic consequences for the gunman. And in time, for the officer.
But in a country town, where media is less inclined to push hard on subjects such as these, the story drifts out of town with the next gust of wind.
But what remains is an unusual situation. So unusual – and possibly lethal – that the next officer walking across the street from one office to the other during the day or in the middle of the night might not be so lucky.
It beggars belief that years on, some highly ranking officers come to visit this particular station. They look. They listen. They know. And the NSW regional town is still looking at a police station that is the sum of two parts – a tiny receptacle on one side, and the other highly fenced – thankfully, post-incident – separated by a wide, busy road which is also the alternate route for trucks and other heavy vehicles.
Here is a world where staff are virtually crawling over each other to eke out space and borrowing each other’s computer to get their paperwork done. The local highway patrol has no base, so who knows where they sit – apart from inside their cars – and the boss is closeted over with the detectives in the tiny receptacle which, barring bars on the windows, offers little in the way of security.
Let’s not even talk about the toilets.
“Constraints” is how the local MP has termed it. She is being diplomatic – I used to work for her so I know she’s being diplomatic.
But I’m not pushing her barrow. Even she knows I’m politically agnostic. I’m pushing the barrow for the officers and townspeople. I also used to edit the local newspaper and constraints isn’t the word I’d use.
It’s a topic for the town which, since a new police station was mooted in 2015, has been spiked so many times there’s a giant hole at its heart.
NSW Minister for Police and Emergency Services David Elliott recently came to town to do a welfare check. He was fresh from Adelong in the South West Slopes where he opened a new $1 million police station.
His words there:
“The NSW Government continues to deliver on its election commitment to invest in a police station infrastructure program to support the vital work of our police men and women.
“This facility provides the resources and modern amenities for police to operate effectively in Adelong and its surrounds.”
Deciding to provide law enforcement officers with a safe environment to work in, and the community with a safe place to bring their concerns, takes so much more than a walk-through.
The minister, tour completed, said he’s got a lot of weighing up to do – the state, metropolitan areas, the region. Etc, etc…
But the town isn’t getting any smaller and the crimes aren’t diminishing. In fact in the past 10 years there’s been a stabbing, a murder, a terrorist plot and countless other – well, by comparison – minimal occurrences that we know of, including the person out the front of the police station allegedly brandishing a gun.
Was Minister Elliott was ever told about that situation that occurred on the 50m stretch between buildings that fateful night?
It crushed the career of one good officer who, in an unguarded moment, stepped up for his community and his colleagues. An action that likely has earned others medals.
He’s now retired. Too early for his age. And we’re still begging for a decent, safe and effective whole police station.
Let’s just hope the vital work of our police officers continues. Safely. Effectively.
And so say all of us.