Linda Champion first dreamt of joining the police force when she was a teenager.
“I remember watching the news and seeing people doing wrong things, and thinking, ‘Why should you get away with that? Why should you get away with that when we’re not allowed to?’,” she said.
That sense of justice drove her into the police force as soon as she finished high school. Today, Linda Champion is Commander of Operations for the ACT Policing branch of the Australian Federal Police (AFP) – one of two women appointed to the role of commander.
From general duties policing through to murder, sexual assault, and organised crime investigations, all aspects of front-line policing are managed by Linda and her colleague and Commander of Investigations Jo Cameron. The pair are also strong advocates for increasing the number of women in policing and encouraging those already in the AFP to further their careers.
Women were first appointed to an Australian police force in 1915 but it has been a long and hard slog to today, when women make up 50 per cent of the sworn leadership team at AFP. Even as late as 1988, Linda says it was a different beast.
“It was a challenge being the token female to begin with, the one in an entire squad or one of five in the entire station, things like that,” she said.
“There were things that weren’t quite right back then, and we females rallied together to support each other. If we saw anything happening in the workplace that wasn’t right, we’d jump on it and do the right thing by it.”
Over the years, Linda rose through the ranks, passing through national crime, special operations, and counter-terrorism, even working in London for a period as AFP Commander for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.
“That position was phenomenal.”
She said she was now at the pinnacle of her career, back in the operations of general policing here in the ACT “which I just love”. But, as a wife and mother, the journey hasn’t always been easy.
“I was going through a career, raising a family, studying tertiary education, all at once at times,” Linda said. “Trying to juggle all of that and maintain an operational policing career was a struggle, but it was well worth it.”
Jo Cameron joined the AFP in 1997 and will be celebrating 25 years in the force this week. Her father was a police officer, and growing up with that influence drew her attention to the contribution police officers can make to their community and workforce.
She initially tried her hand as a school teacher, before coming across an AFP job advertisement in a newspaper one Sunday and deciding to go down an “arguably easier path”.
“When I joined, about half of our recruit force was female, and certainly when I first started doing my general duties at the city station, I wasn’t alone on my team – there were perhaps two or three other women.”
But regardless of gender, she says the shared goal to exterminate wrongdoing bolstered comradery within the team.
“Being able to work as a good team member was key.”
Similar to Linda, she says balancing work and life was a challenge but, along with a desire to increase the number of women in the ranks, AFP has increased the level of flexibility it offers people in her situation. Spouses and partners are another invaluable source of support.
“Having support from my family is the best, and my husband is probably key to me, then being able to do my very best when I go to work,” Jo said.
Several years ago, Jo received the coveted ACT Community Protection medal for her work in the family violence space. She said helping people in need played “a very important part in why I come to work every day”.
“It’s these victims that I’ve been able to help over the years.”
Jo said no one role was best suited to women but it was up to each individual to take up the challenge.
“Yes, there can be gateways, and people might see those gateways as barriers to certain individuals or to women, but those gateways are there for good reason and I know many of my female colleagues who are able to meet those requirements,” she said. “My message is to give it a go.”