Rookie Mistakes, Part 1 – Adapting to Work Around Stress and Trauma

I became a cop in 1997, when I was 20 years old. I had no family or friends in the job, so I really didn’t know what I was in for. But I went into it with an open mind.

Some people say 20 is too young. Some people say it’s better to have some life experience before you become a cop, but I really don’t know if I agree with that. I just don’t think it’s that simple. There’s a whole range of factors that come into it and if I had to judge a person’s suitability for police work, I’d probably consider personality before age.

You have to have a sense of humour and you have to be adaptable. I think the rest just falls into place. Nobody is born to be a police officer and even after graduating, you’re still not really a police officer. You have to get through those first couple of years, the probationary years, then I think it’s pretty much a done-deal. You have to accept shift work as your new way of life. You have to experience being spat at. You have to smell a dead body that’s been shut up in a house for three weeks in the middle of summer. You have to accept that the bulk of your work will be dealing with just three things; alcohol, the drug ice and family violence. That’s basically what it all boils down to.

In terms of my policing life, those early years were my formative years. I worked with a lot of different cops who all had their own particular way of doing things. I paid close attention to the members I admired most and when it came time to create my own style, took something from each of them.

A lot happened in the first five years and I got injured probably half a dozen times. The worst of these incidents was at the local railway station. We were called there one night to deal with a drunk on a train and to put it nicely, it all turned to shit. We got him off the train okay, but when we tried to handcuff him, he dragged me to the ground and ended up on top of me.

I still have this very clear recollection of my partner hitting this guy with his baton over and over again, and it having absolutely no effect. I also remember the tugging sensation I felt at my right hip, when the drunk tried to get at my firearm. I clamped my hand down on top of his – just as I’d been taught – and managed to keep my weapon holstered.

The drunk then shifted his attention elsewhere and I felt his free hand close tightly around my left breast. The pain was unbelievable. I have no idea how long this whole thing went on, but eventually I was able to wriggle out from under him. As soon as I was upright, I emptied a canister of capsicum spray into the drunk’s face. This all happened in full view of everyone on the train. It must have been quite a spectacle.

It was only once he’d been handcuffed and dragged off to the toilets to have his face rinsed off that the knife was found down the front of the drunk’s pants. He’d had it the whole time he was on top of me.

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Once the adrenaline finally wore off, I found I could barely walk. Because the drunk had fallen right on top of my leg, I was sent off to hospital for an x-ray. It turned out to be just a corked thigh – the same kind of injury you see in football and other contact sports. I took the next couple of days off work and ended up with a bruise the size of pancake.

I didn’t tell anyone about the groping, I was just too ashamed. I’d completely lost control of the situation and while the gun-grab was bad enough, the boob-grab was even worse. I hadn’t just been assaulted, I’d been sexually assaulted. He would’ve copped an extra charge for it and probably an increased penalty at court, but I just couldn’t tell anyone. Kara*, my psychologist, was the first person to ever know about it.

In addition to the bruising to my leg, I ended up with bruising around my breast. How could I show anyone that? Assault victims have their injuries photographed and those photos end up on the brief of evidence. I didn’t want my workmates seeing something like that. I didn’t want it ending up in a courtroom for that fucking drunk and his solicitor to see.

I learnt a lot that day. I learnt not to trust anyone. I learnt not to stand so close to people – not just offenders, but people in general. My personal space immediately expanded to probably three times that of the average person. I also learnt to protect my weapon side and even now, years later, I still have that instinct. I haven’t worn a firearm in over a year and I still don’t like having people on my right side.

There are plenty of people who’ll have a go at a cop if they think they can get away with it. I remember working in the cells one night in my first year and standing next to a female drunk at the charge counter. I was fresh out of the Academy and it must’ve been blatantly obvious from my regulation navy blue hair scrunchie, right down to my shiny new boots.

Anyway, this woman was faced with the dilemma of having her hands handcuffed while simultaneously feeling the overwhelming need to fuck up someone’s night. So she decided to wipe her nose on my sleeve. She found it absolutely hilarious.

I just stood there in complete shock, with absolutely no idea how I was supposed to respond. One of my colleagues later said to me, “I can’t believe you just took that.”

Eventually, I learnt to stand up for myself. I remember finding myself in an almost identical situation with another female drunk a few years later. Handcuffed and completely feral, she turned her head to bite me and I threw her down so hard she split her cheek open on the cell floor. We actually had to call an ambulance to come check her out.

I wasn’t proud of it, but it was necessary. Basically, it came down to her or me. She got a thumping headache and I was able to dodge the three-month sentence that is otherwise known as infectious disease testing.

And I’m pretty sure it was the last time she thought about biting a cop.

To be continued…

(*names have been changed to respect the privacy of those concerned)

© Triggered, 2018

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