22 December 2021

ACT Chief Police Officer Neil Gaughan reflects on a challenging 2021

| Lottie Twyford
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ACT Chief Police Officer Neil Gaughan

ACT Chief Police Officer Neil Gaughan says 2021 has been a year punctuated by COVID-19, but also an incident where police officers were run down while conducting a routine traffic stop in July. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

For the ACT Chief Police Officer Neil Gaughan, it’s been a year busier than most.

During COVID-19 lockdown, as the person in charge of the team enforcing COVID-19 compliance rules, he became a familiar face at press conferences, although ACT Policing took an ‘educative’ approach where they could.

He’s also dealt with the ripple effects of seeing his own officers targeted in a violent incident.

And the year didn’t pass without a bit of controversy, either.

Here he reflects to Region Media about the year that was.

The moment that defined 2021: I think without a doubt it has to be COVID-19 and our police response to that. But the other moment which sticks out for me was when three of our officers were struck down by a vehicle while conducting a routine traffic stop [in July]. For a while there we thought that particular incident could have had a much worse ending than it did.

ACT Chief Police Officer Neil Gaughan

During Canberra’s COVID-19 lockdown, ACT Chief Police Officer Neil Gaughan was at many of the press conferences to provide an update on compliance. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

The biggest lesson learnt: I think you learn every day in this kind of role and if you don’t, you probably should give it away. But a lesson I keep telling myself is that I have to be really clear about what I say and the way I say it to the media.

Nothing against you guys, but something I say that is taken by others in the wrong way. A recent example is an issue that got a bit ahead of itself until it seemed ACT Policing would not be going to burglaries anymore, which is not right.

For me, it’s just about being concise and clear in my communication to the public.

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What 2021 taught me about leadership: Clearly defining my expectations is something I’ve got to continue to get a little better at. Explaining why things have to change is important because change can be difficult. As a leader, you’ve got to be clear about what you’re hoping to achieve with changes.

Highlight of the year: Professionally, it’s the way all of ACT Policing has responded to everything that’s been thrown at it. We talk in the media about what we can talk about, but there’s also the underbelly of the Territory that we don’t talk about, but our officers respond to that daily.

Personally, I’m just glad we are in a position again where we can go out and spend time with friends and family, and go out to dinner. I’m quite a social person so that’s been great.

ACT Policing at scene of accident

ACT Policing investigates after the crash in July 2021 in which three officers were hit during a routine traffic stop. Photo: Damien Larkins.

The hardest thing that happened in 2021: Again, I’d say those officers getting hit by the car. One thing I dread hearing is that officers are injured. They have made a full recovery now and I thank all of their families who helped them through that.

It’s been a hard year, and while we’ve still got a little way to go, we are getting there now.

Something I’m proud of: I’m proud of the fact that as I get to the latter half of my career, after almost 40 years of policing, I get the opportunity to come back to where it all started with ACT Policing and lead the force during a pretty challenging time.

It’s something I’m sure I’ll look back on when I’m sitting in my rocking chair sipping my Scotch.

But I’m also really proud of the ACT community in how it responded to the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown. Our high vaccination rates and our ability to move around so freely is testament to that.

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What I wish I did differently: I think it’s that communication issue again. We can always do better with the way we get our messages across.

My New Year’s resolution: Exercising five times a week as I’ve got to lose some kilos.

What to expect from 2022: We will keep working to keep the community safe. I hope that everyone takes the chance to have a bit of a rest and spend time with their friends and family during the break after the year we’ve had.

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