My mates, the old time cops. Why locking up bad guys never goes out of fashion.

April 30, 2013

The first police officer I knew was a family friend. A giant of a man, with shiny black boots so big that babies could have slept in them.

He ran our town like a smiling version of Clint Eastwood, in an early spaghetti western.

We would see him walking the streets after school. Helping an elderly woman with her shopping bags. Talking footy with Harold the barber.

I’d only ever seen his friendly side. But the toughest of the local kids were scared stiff of him. I would soon discover why.

Bored one afternoon, I started throwing stones at the front of our house. Actually, they were rocks. In the direction of on-coming cars. To this day, I can’t tell you why.

I wasn’t trying to hit anyone. But I did. Straight through an old bloke’s windscreen. How he kept control of his rusty bomb I’ll never know.

Neighbours came running. So did Mum. It was a major incident. I was in strife.

When the dust settled, I sat in my room, waiting for the wrath of Dad. Before that happened, there was a knock at the door.

It was my parent’s policeman friend. I came out, to find him blocking the doorway. It was like there had been an eclipse in our street.

His voice deepened, and he gave me the biggest bollocking I’d ever received. There was mention of being locked up. And a reference to what happened to young blonde boys in prison. I was close to wetting myself in terror.

Years later, Mum told me she’d asked him to come over that night. There was never any chance of me being taken away. It was all about giving me the fright of my life. And it worked.

It was an early version of pro-active policing. Helping kids stay on the right path. When a boot up the bum or a clip over the ear wouldn’t lead to an internal investigation.

Funny how some of my best mates are now cops. Or ex-cops. I met most of them back in the day. When police and journos got on. Often by spending nights consuming cool drinks, and solving the problems of the world.

They were from different cities and towns over many years, but all shared a common trait. They loved locking up bad guys.

Not one was a paper-pusher. They were street-smart. Some, it should be said, would rather a fight than a feed. Again, a different time.

Those who remain in the job today, are high-ranking. Still driven by the desire to make the streets safer. That will never change.

Others have successful careers outside of the force. When we get together, the tales are tall, and the laughs loud.

I’m hearing that there’s a push to get back to that raw style of policing. More cops on the beat. Experienced eyes and ears, nipping trouble in the bud. Let’s hope so.

We hear so much about young people not respecting authority. Of having no fear at being spoken to by a police officer. It remains one of the greatest concerns for my mates in the force.

The time of the local copper being invited home by worried parents might be gone. But pro-active policing never went out of style. The results are worth the effort. That stupid, rock-throwing kid would tell you that. If he wasn’t still shaking.

Which carol should I sing next? Hic! The problem with getting Merry before Christmas.

December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve has changed so much.

These days, it’s all about the kids. Buzzing with excitement at home. Refusing to go to sleep.

Not so long ago, it was party time. We’d be buzzing. Until someone sent us home, before we fell asleep.

It seems most of the people I’ve known during my life have had a need to socialise the night before Christmas.

Footballers. Punters. Police officers. Media folk. All with a need to find a cool drink on December 24.

Over time, this has caused problems. There are those who see Christmas Eve as a quiet time, for reflection and cooking. Like Mum. And The Treasurer.

They both got in on the act, during a balmy night in Bundaberg many years ago.

Mum, bless her, had come to visit. It was quite a trip, for a woman of advancing years, who had rarely been on a plane. She was determined to see my new home town for herself.

My mother would never have admitted it, but I think she may have also been checking up on her new daughter-in-law’s housekeeping skills. The newly appointed Treasurer seemed to be very aware of this.

I was under instruction to be home on time. There was much to do, and my help was needed.

The trouble was, I had made friends within the local constabulary. Important for a journo in a strange place. And they had decided I was worthy of Christmas Eve drinks.

From memory, they kicked off early afternoon. A never-ending stream of icy cold beers. And the local product. Such generosity.

They nodded with sincerity when I explained the predicament waiting for me at home. And thrust another drink in my direction. Of course, they had no fear of the two women watching the kitchen clock. Easy to be tough, when you’re carrying a gun.

I was unarmed when I finally made it home. Unsteady feet shuffled me into the eye of the festive storm.

In desperation, I decided that music was my only hope. Christmas music. I broke into tune, encouraging the girls to follow my lead.

One thing I’ve picked up along the way, is that it’s difficult to stay angry at a drunken buffoon in the holiday season. Especially if he refuses to stop singing. So it was, that they both joined in.

A rare victory, thanks to ‘Jingle Bells’.

Fast forward to a different house, in a different time. Young children, so happy. But this year, Dad wasn’t singing.

I had been given the task of assembling a trampoline, in the dead of a Brisbane night. Many of you are now laughing.

It was impossible. I tried. I really did. But the bloody netting wouldn’t stretch over the metal bits. There had obviously been a mistake in the Chinese trampoline factory.

My neighbour at the time, a polite man enjoying his retirement years, decided he should offer a helping hand. Possibly to stop the stream of foul language coming from our yard.

He brought with him tools I had never seen. Items that did the job, quickly and professionally. It was a Christmas miracle, eventually adorned with a green bow.

There have been similar scenes most years since. Bungled assembly jobs. Help from a variety of quarters. With cool drinks taken at home instead.

It will be no different this year. Except with Christmas Eve falling on a Saturday, a man can have an afternoon punt as well. Yes, I’m already rehearsing ‘Silent Night’.

The grubs will never win, because of men like Damian Leeding.

June 7, 2011

I didn’t know Damian Leeding. But I know blokes like him. They’re braver than me. They go to work, not knowing if they’ll make it home.

I’ve knocked around with coppers for the best part of thirty years. Some of my best mates are either in the force, or retired from it.

People my age remember how it used to be. When the local cop ruled the roost. A boot up the bum, or a clip across the ear. Don’t do it again.

Not any more. It’s a different time. Old school is now frowned upon. Not an option. Everything today has to be by the book. Except the crooks are ignoring the script.

One thing hasn’t changed though. The good officers hate the bad guys. With a passion. They despise what they do to innocent people. And they want them off the streets.

I don’t know Damian Leeding’s widow. A police officer herself. But I know women like her. Brave partners, fully aware of the risks.

Can you imagine what it’s like, kissing someone goodbye in the morning, knowing what could lie ahead? Such strength.

As a rule, they don’t discuss those thoughts with others. But it’s always there. The silent fear.

They are incredibly supportive. It’s a tight-knit group. When the unthinkable happens, as it did last week, they grieve as one.

I don’t know Damian Leeding’s parents. But over the years, I’ve met mums and dads like them. So proud, that their son or daughter is willing to take the oathe to protect the rest of us.

Talk to the parents of a soldier, and you’ll find that same emotion. Watching their own take on the toughest of roles. Jobs that must be done.

Listen to what they say, on those awful days when the Hercules returns with another draped coffin. Words dripping with pride, and pain. In equal doses.

It’s never been tougher to be a cop. The crooks they’re chasing are a new breed. On new drugs. Those chemicals frying their brains, have also eliminated any notion of fear.

We have grubs pointing guns at teenagers, trying to make some pocket-money at their fast food restaurant. Or taking on the bloke working the night shift at the local service station. Patrons are being tied up in pubs and clubs. And it seems to be happening every other night.

These cowards carry handguns and shotguns. Knives and iron bars. Even machetes. All aimed at terrifying some poor bugger trying to make an honest dollar.

Well, enough. It’s time we made a noise. Stamped our feet. Let law makers understand that we refuse to accept low lifes getting away with it.

Police need to know we’re behind them. That the overwhelming mob, the silent majority, appreciates what they do for us, every day. Every week.

I didn’t know Damian Leeding. But I know blokes like him. They’ll shed tears for him today. And after a drink to honour his bravery, they’ll go back to work.

Over time, they’ll help with the bills, when the public appeals dry up. They’ll be around, to take Hudson and Grace to Broncos games. All the while, reminding them what a hero their dad was.

Sometime soon, they’ll also look deep inside. To think about how they’ll react, at the next robbery. Only one answer. They’ll do exactly what he did. Prepared for the ultimate sacrifice, to keep us safe. Just like Damian.