Victim Impact Statement on behalf of all members of Victoria Police
April 22, 2020 is a date that will be etched in the hearts and minds of many past, current and future Victorian police and PSOs for the length of their service and for some, the remainder of their lives.
For more than 100 years The Police Association Victoria has existed to protect, represent and support the professional, industrial and welfare interests of 17,000-plus police and PSOs and to provide welfare support and clinical referral in times of crisis, after critical incidents and during the daily working lives of our members.
The job of our members is defined by collective experience, particularly at the base level of policing. When our members talk of ‘the uniform’, they’re talking of the unspoken bond that exists between people who have faced the same challenges, dangers and fears in the course of their policing. That collective experience leads to collective grief and empathy when tragedy strikes.
Acknowledging our greatest loss This month marks the first anniversary of the unspeakably tragic loss of four of our dedicated, loved and valued members as they protected our community on the Eastern Freeway on 22 April 2020. When a member is killed in the course of their duty, particularly during a routine policing event like intercepting a speeding vehicle, one in which the threat to their safety cannot be seen or planned for, it becomes a tragic new reference point for the fears and anxieties of every police and PSO member going forward, one that naturally extends to their families, friends and loved ones.
As the secretary of The Police Association, I was informed of the tragic loss of our four members within minutes of the Eastern Freeway tragedy. In the following minutes, hours and days, I received and attempted to respond to an overwhelming wave of messages of grief, consolation, bereavement and support from our members, fellow unions, members of the public, politicians and community organisations from across Australia and abroad. The shared grief of our members extended to every corner of the community.
Police stations by their nature are a hive of noise, activity and purpose, but in the aftermath of the Eastern Freeway tragedy, they fell silent. Members gathered at the stations where the four members worked to find solace in each other, but they were largely silent. I, along with my welfare team attended these stations in the aftermath of the tragedy, but there were no adequate words of counsel that we could offer. The sense of loss was raw and visceral.
How can you rationalise to a group of police officers that a routine vehicle stop by the side of the road, one that they had each likely performed hundreds of times in the course of their duty, had taken the lives of four of their colleagues and friends?
How can you assure them that they will be safe when they are next asked to do the same thing in the hours and days ahead?
Lynette, Kevin, Glen and Josh were our members, but more importantly they were the most important people in the lives of their parents, partners, children and friends. Learning about them in the aftermath of the tragedy compounded the grief that our members felt.
For their colleagues who knew them well, it was a reminder of the enormous cost of a stranger’s actions. For those who didn’t know them well, there was a sad realisation that they now never would.
Lynette, a 31-year police veteran and recipient of both the national and state police service medal, served most of her career in the road policing division keeping the community safe. Remembered by her colleagues as a dedicated professional with an appetite for living life to its fullest, Lynette has been deprived of reaching the twilight of her career and enjoying her postpolice life that she and her family had planned and worked so hard for over years of outstanding service.
Kevin was described by those who knew and worked with him as a natural born policeman with kind, generous and caring soul. The empathy and compassion that Kevin showed towards all of those he interacted with was a standout feature of his career.
Joshua, who joined his brother Alex amongst the Victoria Police ranks in 2019, had the policing world at his feet. According to all who knew him, his enthusiasm for his chosen career was only matched by his infectious smile and zest for life.
Glen, who had also just begun his policing career, was a much loved and respected member of Squad 5, whose pride at being a member of Victoria Police was evident every time he went to work and put on the uniform.
There is an incredibly sad irony in learning of the life, loves and aspirations of four people, only when it’s too late for them to be realised.
The shared grief for their loss by our members has lingered, somewhat unresolved, due to the complicating factors of the COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions placed on public gatherings including funerals.
As secretary, on behalf of all of our members, I attended the four funerals via livestream. The inability to mourn collectively was something I felt personally. When you work so closely, shoulder to shoulder, with your colleagues as you do in policing, it’s difficult to gain a sense of closure and finality when you experience the grief of a final farewell in isolation behind a computer screen. It’s a very impersonal way to honour someone who has sacrificed so much for a job and a cause you both share.
In the case of Glen, the funeral procession travelled with an escort hundreds of kilometres to New South Wales. Such was the feeling of loss, our members, without organisation, lined road crossings and overpasses almost all the way to the border as his body was repatriated.
As a policing family, our grief remains unresolved. We still have not yet had an opportunity to farewell our colleagues and friends properly. We look forward to doing that.
This crime has struck very deep through all levels of Victoria Police and right across all emergency services personnel.
From the first police members who arrived at the scene still full of carnage and chaos, to the ambulance paramedics and fire brigade members who did all they could to save lives and the police men and women who were charged with informing the families of their colleagues that their loved ones would not be returning home. From the specialist investigators who painstakingly spent hours meticulously processing the scene and collecting evidence, to those who took statements from traumatised witnesses, and those who stood guard at the crime scene and hospital. From the detectives, analysts, and support staff who diligently and persistently pieced together what happened bit by bit. Perhaps most importantly, for each and every member who lent an ear to a friend or provided a shoulder for a colleague to cry on, the impact of this crime cannot be measured in lives lost, wreaths laid, or tears shed.
When you walk into the office of The Police Association Victoria, the entrance wall is adorned with the pictures of members who have been killed in the line of duty. It’s a daily reminder to all of our employees and any member of the police or public who attends our office, of the depth of feeling and remembrance we hold for our members who have paid the ultimate sacrifice. To add a single picture, let alone four, to that wall is a crushing reality for an organisation that exists to protect our protectors and a daily reminder of the devastating consequences of this crime.
Our members, our colleagues, our mates, died protecting the community from the very crime that ultimately took their lives.
We will remember them.