All I could think about was I could have shot and killed small chil­dren. The cir­cum­stances were that scary at the time – there had been shots fired and they’d come over and lit us up, ba­si­cally blind­ing us de­spite know­ing we were po­lice. You’d never live

The Riverine Herald - - NEWS -

THE new top – and only – cop at Stan­hope po­lice sta­tion comes with 30 years’ ex­pe­ri­ence, mostly in and around the Goul­burn Val­ley.

He also brings with him haunt­ing sto­ries of the dan­gers our po­lice face on an al­most daily ba­sis – and how in the most threat­en­ing of en­vi­ron­ments just a split sec­ond sep­a­rates them and disas­ter.

And po­ten­tially can go so wrong that re­cov­ery from the men­tal trauma would be a long, hard road with no re­sults guar­an­teed.

Frank Scopel­liti said the hairs still go up on the back of his neck when he thinks about one of the most bizarre near-misses any cop could face in their ca­reer.

That ham­mers home the mes­sage of the pro­found, too of­ten life-chang­ing im­pact some every­day de­ci­sions made by po­lice can have on the lives of in­di­vid­u­als.

Rid­ing tan­dem with now-re­tired of­fi­cer Narelle Fraser, the pair were sent out to in­ves­ti­gate a re­port of shots fired on a prop­erty near Gir­garre 12 years ago.

They found a ute with spot­lights cut­ting through the dark be­fore they got their own lights and sirens go­ing to show they were po­lice, and ges­tured for the uniden­ti­fied driver and pas­sen­gers to come for­ward and iden­tify them­selves.

That’s when things dra­mat­i­cally es­ca­lated.

The ute kept go­ing and pulled up to the po­lice car and blinded both of­fi­cers with its high-pow­ered spot­lights.

No re­sponse was then made when the po­lice asked the driver and pas­sen­gers to step out of the ve­hi­cle.

At which point both of­fi­cers drew their own weapons, aimed at the car and de­manded the lights to be turned off and ev­ery­one to get out of the ve­hi­cle and drop their weapons.

It was, lit­er­ally, a hair trig­ger sit­u­a­tion. If the next move by the un­seen oc­cu­pants had been ag­gres­sive, bul­lets might have started fly­ing.

Even to­day, years later, Frank sounds as though he still can’t be­lieve what hap­pened next.

Af­ter a brief pause that seemed any­thing but brief, out stepped a sixyear-old, a seven-year-old and a 10-year-old – all armed. Frank and his part­ner were stunned. “They had just pan­icked and didn’t know what to do,” he said.

“So we went back and dealt with the par­ents on the farm – but when we spoke about it later, all I could think about was I could have shot and killed small chil­dren.

“The cir­cum­stances were that scary at the time – there had been shots fired and they’d come over and lit us up, ba­si­cally blind­ing us de­spite know­ing we were po­lice. “You’d never live with your­self.” It’s mo­ments such as those, when the adren­a­line started pump­ing, that Frank said po­lice of­fi­cers needed to rely on their train­ing to get the job done prop­erly.

And while this ex­pe­ri­ence stands out as one of the most dis­turb­ing across his ca­reer, which be­gan af­ter he grad­u­ated from the Glen Waverly po­lice academy in July 1989 – at just 18 years of age – there have been plenty of highs to go with the lows.

With all his years on the job, and his strong knowl­edge of the re­gion, Frank said he was con­fi­dent he could make a pos­i­tive im­pact on his new beat in the small town.

Born and raised in Shep­par­ton, Frank at­tended Notre Dame Col­lege and al­ways knew he wanted to be­come a po­lice of­fi­cer.

“It’s about help­ing peo­ple – you want to make a dif­fer­ence,” he said.

Fol­low­ing grad­u­a­tion, his first post­ing was Prahran – just 10 months af­ter the Walsh St po­lice shoot­ing in which con­sta­bles Steve Ty­nan, 22, and Damian Eyre, 20, were am­bushed and mur­dered.

Frank knew of Damian Eyre, who also grew up in Shep­par­ton around the same time.

“Things were pretty raw at the sta­tion back then,” he said. “But it was an in­ter­est­ing time and I learnt a lot dur­ing my first 14 months there.”

He then worked at Rus­sell Street and Hawthorn po­lice sta­tions, be­fore he went back to the coun­try with stints in Shep­par­ton, Kyabram, Mooroopna, Tatura, Echuca, Tongala, and now Stan­hope.

“When I look back over my ca­reer so far, I’ve had lots of lit­tle wins,” Frank said.

“They might not be sig­nif­i­cant in that I haven’t changed the world or solved the drug prob­lem, but I had strong in­di­vid­ual im­pacts.”

One of these wins, he said, in­volved a young Kyabram man he en­coun­tered in the late 1990s, who was “off the rails” on drugs and re­peat­edly com­mit­ting bur­glar­ies and thefts.

“I dealt with him a few times – back then we didn’t have as much sup­port from agen­cies – so I re­ally took the time to give him a hand,” Frank ex­plained.

And then a decade later, again work­ing in Kyabram, this man’s mother came to him and said the for­mer drug ad­dict had man­aged to turn his life around. He was now hap­pily mar­ried, liv­ing and work­ing in Western Aus­tralia.

“She told me it was just be­cause I took the time to treat him like a per­son,” Frank said.

“That kind of stuff might not work on ev­ery­one, be­cause maybe they’re not ready, or maybe you don’t have the right re­la­tion­ship with them. But it can also change some­one’s life for the bet­ter.

“They’re only lit­tle wins, but they’re a big im­pact on those peo­ple and it makes it all worth­while.”

And now, less than a fort­night into his new role at Stan­hope, Frank has turned his at­ten­tion to mak­ing that pos­i­tive con­tri­bu­tion to the town as its lone po­lice of­fi­cer.

“Work­ing solo is a chal­lenge, but with 30 years in a va­ri­ety of roles, I know I’ve got the ex­pe­ri­ence and knowl­edge to do the job,” he said.

“Ev­ery town, espe­cially those smaller ones, like Stan­hope, has peo­ple who have been there a long time and are re­ally pas­sion­ate about them.

“And I’ll be well sup­ported by the sta­tions at Kyabram, Rush­worth, Rochester, El­more, and Tongala, who are all part of a big­ger clus­ter that works to­gether.

“So I’d like to work closely with the lo­cals to help achieve their goals and keep Stan­hope a nice town.”

The Stan­hope po­lice sta­tion is at 46 Bird­wood Av­enue and can be reached on 5857 2507.

OF­FI­CER EX­PE­RI­ENCE: po­lice sta­tion. For­mer Echuca po­lice of­fi­cer Frank Scopel­liti is the new top cop at Stan­hope’s

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