OPINION: Web of tragedy ensnares everyone involved, including police officers

MARCH 16 2019 - 9:30AM
Written by Tony King, President of the Police Association of NSW

When tragedy strikes, the damage left behind ripples throughout the whole community.  This is evident from the tragic incident on Thursday in Glendale when police were forced to defend their own lives from a man with a violent and troubled past.

The circumstances surrounding the young man’s death, and the horrific death of a young mother, are under investigation. What we do know, however, is that the incident has had, and will continue to have, a devastating impact on a large number of people – innocent people who have been caught in this web of tragedy.

An innocent young mother is dead. A child has been robbed of a mother. What the loved ones of those whose lives have been lost will be going through is incomprehensible.

What is sometimes also forgotten is how incidents like this impact the other people involved too - people like the responding police, their colleagues and their families.

We as a community we expect so much of our police officers. We expect them to run towards danger. We expect them to put their lives on the line to protect the community – and they do.

Police are people too. They’re empathetic men and women with families who are forced to make life and death decisions in a split second that will affect them, and many others, for the rest of their lives. They’re forced to make a decision that no one ever wants to make – the decision to fire your weapon in order to protect yourself and the community.

The actions of the police are – necessarily – scrutinised to the nth degree. Despite this, I fully support the actions of the police involved.

The police in this incident were taken away for investigation. They were kept under constant observation for hours for fear of collusion. They were photographed, their hands swabbed, urine samples obtained, breath tested, and their clothes seized and tested. This is before any interview where they are asked to relive every single step, every single decision they made over and over again – and they’ll be asked to relive the tragic moments over again for many years to come. They will be wondering what could have been done to prevent this situation in the first place. Scrutiny is necessary. 

Ensuring proper investigations are conducted is crucial, and the way we investigate incidents like this is something police in this state are very proud of. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to deal with.

Consider walking through the door at home at the end of a day like this – a day when you’ve been faced with a horrific incident. What do you say to your loved ones? What do your loved ones, who share the pain, say to you?

Consider reliving the tragedy of the moment a young person was killed day after day, year after year.

I can tell you that you don’t get over things like that. That’s why the Police Association of NSW has people on the ground supporting as best we can the members, directly and indirectly involved, and their families. 

Our staff have been embedded with the police involved since Thursday. They have witnessed first-hand the impact that this 20-hour rampage has had.

That’s also why it’s crucial that properly funded programs are put in place to assist police with their physical and psychological wellbeing – programs like the Workplace Improvement Program, which has been proven to make a difference, but, at the moment due to funding restrictions, isn’t readily available to all police. 

We need additional funding so that these programs are available to all police. Nothing can take away the pain of a tragedy like this, but there are things we can do to support everyone involved as best we can.

We see time and time again at coronial inquests for similar matters, that the actions of police are scrutinised but not the actions or failings of others that lead up to the incident. I hope this is not one of those cases.

But among all the investigation and interrogation, it’s important to remember that everyone touched by this tragedy is a person first and foremost, and that dealing with tragedy is difficult no matter how directly or indirectly you’re involved.

The web of tragedy is tangled. It takes hold of many, many people – some who perhaps you wouldn’t think of straight away.