Protection carries a terrible toll

Published in the Herald Sun on 8 August 2020.

By Wayne Gatt

WHEN the 26-year-old constable from Frankston graduated from the academy last year, she could never have envisaged that at any point in her career, enforcing the wearing of masks by citizens in public streets would be her most important and defining public safety duty.

Similarly, if you were to tell her she would be injured in an assault 18 months into that career, she would struggle to believe the circumstances in which those injuries were allegedly inflicted.

Not trying to stop an offender in a high-risk situation or any number of common policing situations. No, in 2020, this young constable found herself on the ground, concussed and with her alleged attacker standing over her grasping a clump of the hair she had just ripped from the officer’s head. All because she had asked a woman, who was not wearing a mask, for her name.

The constable and her partner were diligently policing the health guidelines designed to keep us all safe. In doing so, her safety was lost.

This is a unique reminder of the danger of the times, and the image of this forlorn member, still wearing her mask back at the office shortly after the attack, gave everyone a glimpse into the human fragility that sits behind the uniform.

Early in lockdown 1.0, police were criticised for enforcing restrictions too harshly and not showing enough discretion at times. Police take the responsibility of protecting the public personally, and behind each fine was a genuine commitment to ensure each person was accountable to the rules.

Our members have donned PPE to walk the hallways of the housing towers in Flemington and North Melbourne to help the residents within, they’ve committed to helping to “right the ship” at the quarantine hotels, and they’re manning check points and enforcing curfews to ensure the rate of transmission falls and the return to our normal lives hastens.

Thankfully, they’re not doing that with just our support alone. For every video posted of smart alecs taunting our members with their garbled anti-mask rants, there’s a dozen stories relayed to me of people delivering a hot coffee or a bacon and egg roll to members standing in the freezing cold at check points or simply just being cooperative and courteous, offering a smile, a word of encouragement or a thumbs-up as they pass.

Ultimately, it’s that sentiment that our members deserve to return home at night thinking about. That’s what spurs an eager, diligent 26-year-old constable to join the force in the first place.

If you are one of those people, thank you.