Policing a two-way street with community
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