Former Senior Constable Mark Dawes had a simple metric for whether or not he was doing a good job.
“No one I’ve arrested ever gave me a hard time in the supermarket,” he said.
“If you’re respectful to people you get respect back.”
Mr Dawes recently retired after 35 years of service.
His first posting was Camden in the 1980s when it was still a small country town, but since 1995 he’s been a highway patrol officer based out of Batemans Bay.
He said policing in a small town was a special gig.
“You get to know a lot of people and you might use more discretion because you know people better,” he said.
“You get to see people change, too, which you might not in a city.
“Someone might be a regular for a while; you keep pulling them over for drink driving or driving unlicensed, maybe you have to arrest them.
“Then you don’t see them for a while and a few years later you pull them over and they’re so proud to show you they’ve got their licence; they’ve got their life together.”
Mr Dawes said seeing people’s lives improve as they “start to do the right thing and keep out of trouble” was one of his rewards over the years.
“No one likes getting caught but it’s nice to think you might have made a difference to their life,” he said.
Policing isn’t all redemption stories and friendly arrests, however.
Early in his career on the coast Mr Dawes was pinned down under fire behind a tractor in Mogo after being called to a domestic dispute.
In 2009 he was one of the first on scene when a fuel tanker collided with several cars at East Lynne, killing three people at the scene. Another person later died in hospital.
The Black Summer bushfires were also tough – professionally and personally.
Overall though, Mr Dawes said he had more good days than bad.
“I’ve been to a lot of fatal accidents, but I’ve also had a lot of opportunities to help people out,” he said.
“Every day is different … I’m just proud of serving my community and trying to make a difference.”
Over the years Mr Dawes has been recognised for his outstanding work on 25 different occasions – including a Commander’s Commendation for exemplary driving.
“I was going up the Clyde and a motorbike rider fell off in front of me,” he explained.
“I don’t know how I avoided him, but I did.”
His retirement day was emotional, but the morning after was something else.
“It was a stressful last couple of weeks and an emotional last day, but my colleagues gave me a good send-off,” he said.
“They did an amazing job. There are 13 guys in our section, all different but all legends, and we had a great supervisor.
“I woke up on my first day of retirement and it just felt like all the pressure had been lifted off me.”
Now living in Braidwood, the days of 4:30 am alarms may be over for Former Senior Constable Dawes but he was still up bright and early for a brisk 6 km walk with his daughter.
He’s looking forward to travelling around Australia and overseas, relaxing and spending more time with his family.
If there’s one thing he’s learned from 35 years in the force, it’s that life – and people – are pretty good.
“At the end of the day there’s more good out there than bad,” he said.