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Think Local

Being a police officer means working on the frontline and regularly dealing with life or death situations. A normal shift can see them attending a traumatic car crash, investigating murders, suicides, domestic violence cases, fraud, enforcing an AVO, plus so much more. The following day could entail visiting someone on the child protection register, locating missing people, investigating break-ins or dealing with workplace accidents.

Often the police don't know what they're facing until they arrive at the scene.

"We do our best to keep the area and its people safe," says Sergeant Dave Thomson from North Shore Local Area Command (LAC). "Some jobs can take 15 minutes, others 15 hours, and we face every situation."

When a 000 call comes in, it goes to an operator based at Sydney Police Centre in Surry Hills who extracts the information, assesses it and then assigns the issue to the relevant force.

General duty officers are usually 'first response’, and there are eight based at Chatswood Station. Other departments include the crime management unit, detectives, education officers, beats and the proactive team.

"The station, on average, receives 30 calls for assistance each day and with first response, two-to-three car crews usually attend," crime coordinator, Sergeant Scott Horwood, tells North Shore Living. He works closely with intelligence, reviewing everything that comes in and assigns cases to various officers, often connecting the dots.

He leads the intel briefing with Superintendent Julie Boon and Chief Inspector Simon Jones at 7.30am every Monday and Wednesday, which more than 40 officers attend. The gathered information is then emailed to all 120 staff.

"In the last two months, we've seen a jump in breaking and entering," he reveals. "They've actually doubted, and we've identified many offenders. Some work in groups, some alone. Some are targeted, some opportunistic."

Recent thefts include S27,000 in cash, jewellery, gadgets, weapons and family heirlooms.

"When crime goes up, residents panic,” crime prevention officer, Constable Michael Alexander, explains. "That's why we're constantly sending out crime prevention messages about how not to be a victim - know your neighbours, lock your doors, lock your car…

"In places like Newtown, houses are like Fort Knox. That's why the crooks come here. Because the North Shore is such a nice place to live, people can get complacent."

Superintendent Julie Boon encourages officers to get out and about at least once a day for visibility. "Even just patrolling the streets for an hour around the train station and shopping centres means we can be seen by around 10,000 people," says Senior Constable Damian Norris. "People often come up and start conversations. One woman recently gave a great description of a guy who had been breaking and entering and from that we managed to catch him. We also have plain clothes officers out and about too - it's like 21 Jump Street."

While incidences involving drug crime and the aftermath of mental health issues are standard day-to-day occurrences, the police must constantly make critical decisions in a split second.

"There are lots of alternatives to arrest, and communication is always first," says Sgt Thomson. "There are eight different tactical options, like taser, cuffs - and you need a justification for each one.

"For example, if you're at a busy event and it's windy, don't use the pepper spray or else everyone, yourself included, cops it. 'Safety first' is always front of mind, and using a firearm is always the last resort."

Unfortunately, due to the constant and evolving war on terror, our local policemen and women fear things may change significantly in the near future.

“I can see us walking around with machine guns in 20 years if terrorist attacks keep happening," muses Sgt Wotherspoon.

North Shore LAC makes between 300 to 400 formal arrests and custodies annually. Ten years ago, that would have been 700. Some of that is down to the change of methodology and technology, which is constantly evolving.

"Technology has hugely Impacted forensics," says Sgt Norwood. “It used to take six months for a DNA hit, whereas now it takes 24 hours. And the same with fingerprint results - these are back within four hours."

Of course, while technology helps, it also comes down to the police themselves and their role in the community, including social media use. Posting a photo of a person of interest to their Facebook group can get a result within a few hours.

"What Sgt Norwood and his team do is exceptional," says Superintendent Boon. "They do a fabulous job of getting out there and Michael Alexander, especially, is well-known in the community. We're very lucky we've got them."

Supt Boon, who started her police career in the media unit and re-joined the station in February after being stationed at Mudgee and Byron Bay, admits it's "like coming home".

"Being in the police force, not only are there lots of opportunities and a career path, but each day is different - and you get to help the community by doing something extremely meaningful," she says. "It's a very rewarding job."

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