Polic­ing a two-way street with com­mu­nity

The Cobram Courier - - NEWS -

Se­nior staff writer IVY JENSEN sat down with Paul Huggett, the po­lice in­spec­tor just ap­pointed to over­see the safety and com­mu­nity par­tic­i­pa­tion of a large slice of south­ern NSW, and found the ex­pe­ri­enced of­fi­cer has a sim­ple but ef­fec­tive plan to im­prove po­lice pen­e­tra­tion of the area.

He has been shot at, up so close and per­sonal it burst an eardrum. And he has had his own gun out, more than once, but never had to fire it on ac­tive duty. A po­lice of­fi­cer for more than half his life, and the son of a po­lice of­fi­cer, it was in­evitable Paul Huggett would choose to be­come part of the thin blue line. Af­ter 25 years on the job, In­spec­tor Huggett has rid­den into Moama af­ter be­ing ap­pointed of­fi­cer in charge of the Mur­ray River Po­lice District west­ern sec­tors. It fol­lows 2017’s for­ma­tion of re­gional NSW po­lice dis­tricts, when De­niliquin Lo­cal Area Com­mand, which covered Moama and Mathoura, was merged with Al­bury to be­come the Mur­ray River Po­lice District. In his patch Insp Huggett has nine sta­tions, in­clud­ing Moama, Mathoura, Moulamein, Barham, Tocumwal, Fin­ley, Jer­ilderie, Ber­ri­gan and Ba­rooga. And he also has strong opin­ions about what not only makes po­lice more ef­fec­tive but what achieves the re­sults ev­ery­one wants. ‘‘I’m an ab­so­lute firm be­liever that a po­lice force is only as good as the com­mu­nity it serves,’’ he said. The com­mu­nity, Insp Huggett is adamant, solves crime. Un­for­tu­nately, that same com­mu­nity also tol­er­ates too much of it. In his new role, Insp Huggett said he was de­ter­mined to re­duce crime and the per­cep­tion of crime. And do it with the com­mu­nity’s help. When it comes to polic­ing Moama and Mathoura, Insp Huggett said thefts con­tin­ued to be the most preva­lent crime. But bet­ter man­ag­ing it was per­haps the most ob­vi­ous — and sim­ple — solution. ‘‘The ma­jor­ity of thefts are op­por­tunis­tic. They’re from un­locked cars, peo­ple are still leav­ing their wal­lets on the dash­board,’’ he said. ‘‘We need the com­mu­nity to take a bit more own­er­ship of their se­cu­rity and lock their houses, car doors and roller doors.’’ It’s sim­ple, but so ef­fec­tive. That com­mu­nity has yet an­other role, in­deed re­spon­si­bil­ity — to not only take steps to pre­vent crime, but also to re­port it. ‘‘If the com­mu­nity is not go­ing to come for­ward with state­ments, if the com­mu­nity is not go­ing to ring through and pro­vide ev­i­dence to Crime Stop­pers or the lo­cal po­lice, or take steps to se­cure them­selves and prop­erty, it lessens the ef­fect of the po­lice force,” Insp Huggett said. The same goes for drug crime. And al­though Insp Huggett doesn’t be­lieve our drug prob­lem is any worse than other towns, it re­mains a se­ri­ous con­cern for po­lice. He has seen the dev­as­tat­ing im­pact drugs, par­tic­u­larly ice, can have on a com­mu­nity. ‘‘I see how preva­lent it is and how it af­fects the whole of com­mu­nity, from fam­i­lies to grand­par­ents, to the neigh­bours, to the com­mu­nity who raises a child, not just the sin­gle fam­ily unit,’’ he said. ‘‘If some­one is on ice, it has a whole-of-com­mu­nity ef­fect, from health to em­ploy­ment to crime to bel­liger­ence, to the per­cep­tion of crime.’’ Insp Huggett said ice was not just a po­lice or health is­sue, but a com­mu­nity is­sue. ‘‘There’s drugs in ev­ery com­mu­nity and if the com­mu­nity con­dones that, it will con­tinue to hap­pen,’’ he said. ‘‘If the com­mu­nity doesn’t con­done that and con­tin­ues to re­port sus­pi­cious be­hav­iour — for ex­am­ple, 10 cars went to Jo Blog’s house and stayed there for a minute — that al­lows us to build a brief and ap­ply for a search war­rant, which we of­ten do. ‘‘But you can’t ar­rest your way out of an ice prob­lem. You can’t ar­rest your way out of an un­em­ploy­ment prob­lem, or out of any­thing. ‘‘It’s a whole-of-com­mu­nity ap­proach. That’s why I con­tin­u­ally come back to a po­lice force be­ing only as good as the com­mu­nity it serves.” Insp Huggett should know what he’s talk­ing about — he has been in the game now for 25 years. He joined the NSW Po­lice in 1993 at the age of 20. ‘‘It (join­ing the po­lice) was al­ways where I was headed,’’ he said. He grew up in Sydney, which was where he was posted when he grad­u­ated from the academy. ‘‘It was great fun. It was a ball. It was a dif­fer­ent era of polic­ing, of course,’’ he said. But he left there ‘‘fairly smartly’’, head­ing to Gil­gan­dra be­fore bounc­ing around the bush for the rest of his ser­vice. In his new job that will seem like a pleas­ant Sun­day drive. With his scat­tered com­mand it means trav­el­ling to all his sta­tions ev­ery two weeks as a mat­ter of rou­tine, more of­ten as needs de­mand. ‘‘It’s a fair area but it’s cer­tainly achiev­able,’’ Insp Huggett said. ‘‘Dis­tance is al­ways go­ing to be a big chal­lenge . . . but I’ve got good staff and good sergeants who are on top of their game. ‘‘It’s just about get­ting around to them and mak­ing sure they’re run­ning ef­fi­ciently and do­ing their job. ‘‘It’s about em­pow­er­ing them all, the sergeants and the of­fi­cers-in­charge of your smaller sta­tions, to po­lice their towns as they see fit.’’ But if they need ad­vice, they are go­ing to be ask­ing the right man. Dur­ing his ca­reer Insp Huggett has been a weapons trainer and worked in tac­ti­cal teams. It has seen him in the thick of some pretty high-risk sit­u­a­tions. ‘‘Apart from that shooting, I’ve been in plenty of wres­tles and scuf­fles,’’ he said. How­ever, when asked if that was the worst part of his job, Insp Huggett did not hes­i­tate. ‘‘No, no it’s not,’’ he said, his voice low­er­ing. ‘‘See­ing peo­ple when they’re down. De­liv­er­ing that death mes­sage to a fam­ily af­ter a car crash — you just have to do it. I’ve done it over and over. You just have to go into au­topi­lot and de­liver the news as com­pas­sion­ately and sup­port­ively as you can.’’ But the worst cases were the ones in­volv­ing chil­dren or an­i­mals. The most re­cent was last year’s tragedy in Moama, with a mother ac­cused of mur­der­ing her fiveyear-old son by drown­ing him in the Mur­ray River, and the at­tempted mur­der of his nine-yearold brother. It is some­thing Insp Huggett and his col­leagues will never for­get. ‘‘That had a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact on ev­ery­one,’’ he said. He was also part of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the Wagga Wagga mur­der-sui­cide in April 2012, when a fa­ther killed his son be­fore killing him­self. And then there’s hav­ing to deal with road trauma as first re­spon­ders to car crashes in­volv­ing chil­dren.

Work­ing with the com­mu­nity, for the com­mu­nity: Mur­ray River Po­lice District In­spec­tor Paul Huggett. Pic­ture: Luke He­mer

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