15 February 2023

Eager new recruits headed for stretched ACT police force

| James Coleman
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police officers at Government House

AFP’s first recruits for 2023. Photo: Australian Federal Police (AFP).

Ex-army officer Emma Waye, aged 25, is one of 25 constables set to join the local police force this year at a time when ACT Policing desperately needs them.

“My parents and Poppa were police officers in South Australia so I’ve grown up with policing stories, and it’s made me really excited to get out there and give back to the community,” she says.

“I’ll now be taking up general duties here with ACT Policing.”

The 13 men and 13 women – aged between 20 and 36 – were sworn in at a graduation ceremony at Government House this month (one recruit won’t be joining the AFP). Not only is it the first of the year, but it’s also the first time recruits and their families and friends have been invited to the Governor-General’s Yarralumla property for the ceremony.

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Led by the oldest mounted police force in the world (the NSW Mounted Police) and the force’s pipe band under the AFP flag, the recruits assumed military-style formation to take the Police Oath and receive their badges and awards.

The Governor-General David Hurley had some words of wisdom for them too.

“As soon-to-be constables in the AFP, you will be entrusted with a great responsibility and assume a special status,” he said.

“Every time you walk into a room, people will start looking inside themselves and wondering why you are there. That says a lot about how we see our relationship with you. We know what you do and what you mean for us … I wish you well as you take on this task.”

The mix of former Australian Defence Force soldiers, Australian Border Force investigators, NSW and Victoria police officers and former prison officers will be deployed to stations across the ACT in general duties roles starting this year.

Governor-General David Hurley at Government House inspecting the new recruits

Governor-General David Hurley inspecting the AFP’s first recruits for 2023. Photo: Australian Federal Police (AFP).

ACT Policing falls under the jurisdiction of the AFP but is funded by the ACT Government. Both parties signed an $800 million agreement in November last year setting out the arrangements for ACT Policing to continue providing community policing services for the next four years.

However, regarding the number of officers this amount of money can buy, the latest Federal Report on Government Services reveals fewer sworn police per 100,000 people in the ACT than anywhere else in the country – 205 compared with the average of 280.

And speaking with Region in December 2022, ACT Chief Police Officer Neil Gaughan said they were feeling the pinch every day of the week.

“We’ve got less people patrolling, we’ve got less people in our traffic area, we’ve got less people in some of our intel areas, but it’s just the way we have to manage it,” he said.

“We don’t have any problem attracting police … I don’t have any spare cash.”

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CPO Gaughan flagged a “serious conversation” with the local government in 2023.

“With the operational tempo continuing to grow and the population growth, we need to have a serious conversation around whether the numbers we have to police Canberra are adequate.”

ACT Police Minister Mick Gentleman said while the ACT Government has injected “record funding” into ACT Policing, he does “recognise the need for increased police resourcing” and promised a continued review into officer numbers as the population grows.

“The ACT Government will continue to invest in a range of community safety, harm reduction and criminal justice initiatives and increase police numbers in the 2023-24 budget,” he said.

“This will be in addition to the new purchase agreement signed with the AFP which provides base funding of $800 million over four years and our record investment in ACT Policing in the 2019-20 budget that delivered more than an additional 60 members.”

Whatever the outcome, the new recruits are eager to join.

Tom Richardson, 33, packed up his life in Queensland to train at the AFP College in August 2022. He will undertake general duties with ACT Policing, with an eye to serving in child protection.

“I’ve always wanted to get into human protection services or other people-based employment,” he says.

“I was going to train in Queensland, but the local force didn’t offer the same opportunities to travel and the number of different roles that AFP does.”

Alison McLucas, 28, hails from a family of firefighters and is a cabinet-maker by trade, working in the construction of solid-timber furniture for seven years. Last year she decided it was time for a change.

“My trade was always going to be the fallback for my ultimate goal,” she says.

“Today was a surreal, momentous moment. I’ve been working tirelessly for the past six months so it’s a great feeling to finally finish. It’s been the better part of what I’ve talked about for the past 10 to 15 years, so my family is stoked for me to see it all come to fruition too.”

Her dream field is in negotiation, but she’s happy to “see where the road takes me”.

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