Suzanne swapped her scrubs for a Glock in bid to solve problems early
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Suzanne swapped her scrubs for a Glock in bid to solve problems early

Switching from wearing cotton nursing scrubs to a ballistics vest, Glock and Taser may seem like a odd career turnabout but for Suzanne Preston, it was a chance to help solve problems at the beginning, rather than patch up the outcomes.

The latest recruitment drive by ACT Policing ends on February 21

The latest recruitment drive by ACT Policing ends on February 21

"Being an emergency nurse is a wonderful and rewarding career but I often felt like I was just putting a band-aid over the problem and sending people back out to face the same set of issues," she said.

"As a police officer, you get to deal with those issues right from the start and hopefully, find the right solutions."

As the window closes on the latest recruitment drive for Canberra's community police on February 21, Detective Leading Senior Constable Preston, to provide her full title, has added her encouragement to the latest effort and would love to see more women sign up.

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"Policing is a more difficult choice for women than for men but that being said, policing is a much more flexible workplace now than it used to be," she said.

As a woman who has served in various policing roles for 16 years and raised two children at the same time, she believes the public perception of policing is different to the reality.

"I joined up because I believed - and I still do - that as a police officer you genuinely can influence people's lives for the better."

Coming from a nurse working in front-line emergency and psychiatric care for eight years, that's no minor endorsement.

An only child from a close farming family in Victoria's Mallee country, logically the Victoria Police should have been her first option once Suzanne decided on her radical career switch.

And it was - until she saw the wall.

"Back in those days they [Victoria Police] had this wall that was five or six metres high that all recruits had to physically scale to get considered," she said.

"I just wasn't able to climb it, so I was out."

But Victoria's loss was Canberra's gain.

She trained harder, applied to the Australian Federal Police, and was accepted.

Now her career has gone full circle. From working as a detective in Canberra, to joining the federal police's people smuggling team on Christmas Island and now heading back to general duties, she recently she spent nine months supporting recruits in their training at the AFP's college in Barton and enjoyed every day of it.

The current recruitment drive is for both for community policing and for protective service officers. It draws people from all ages and backgrounds from electricians and firefighters, to teachers and personal trainers.

Unlike some other state and territory police forces, the federal police generally prefers its recruits to have some life experience - but there are notable exceptions.

"There was one particular 18-year-old woman who applied for the recruit course I was involved with," Suzanne said.

"It sounds awfully young to join up but she had packed a lot of life experience into her 18 years and she had this amazing positive attitude.

"She breezed through the training, is now out on the road in community policing and is doing really, really well."

The ranks of the protective services graduates are a rich source of future community policing recruits as was the case with Joel Wiseman, now stationed at Tuggeranong and working "out on the road".

First Constable Joel Wiseman grew up on the beaches of the far NSW North Coast, but now patrols in Tuggeranong

First Constable Joel Wiseman grew up on the beaches of the far NSW North Coast, but now patrols in Tuggeranong

"That's the key benefit of joining the federal police," he said.

"You can start your career in one place and then do so many different things."

Now in his sixth year as a police officer, First Constable Wiseman moved from the far North Coast as a recruit, initially signing on a protective services officer.

Within 12 months, he had moved across to community policing, then was seconded to the AFP's Sydney office to work in aviation and investigations.

"I think that's where joining a national police service provides those extra opportunities," he said.

"I can honestly say there's never an average day in policing."

Peter Brewer is a Canberra Times reporter.

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