A sergeant who misused her job to take over vacant homes in an attempt to claim squatter's rights has become the first female police officer jailed in Victoria.
Rosa Rossi changed the locks on six vacant properties without the owners' knowledge between April 2016 and June 2017.
She used Victoria Police's internal database to look up vacant properties and at one point went to a suburban Melbourne council office in uniform to demand an owner's number.
Rossi also rented out some of the properties, spread across the Melbourne suburbs of Malvern, Chadstone and Brooklyn, as well the as western Victorian town of Willaura.
She redirected mail and used false documents and her position as a sergeant to cover her tracks.
When a concerned neighbour called police after spotting Rossi at one Willaura home, she said she was an officer, had keys and was buying the property.
The 58-year-old was jailed in Victoria's County Court on Wednesday for four-and-a-half years. She must serve two years and four months before becoming eligible for release on parole.
Judge Martine Marich noted Rossi, described as a devout Catholic, would be the first female police officer jailed in Victoria.
"Your fall from grace has been dramatic, profound, public and gravely embarrassing to you, and I take into account the public opprobrium that you precipitated upon yourself," the judge said.
Rossi joined the police force in 1994, collecting certificates for meritorious and ethical conduct.
But she quit after her scheme came undone and pleaded guilty to nine charges including deception, perjury and unauthorised access to police information.
The court was told she wanted to build her property portfolio and thought she could do this using a legal process known as adverse possession.
This allows someone to obtain ownership of a property if they can prove they've possessed it exclusively for at least 15 years.
"As a former sergeant of police it is a preposterous suggestion that you felt this doctrine enabling long future ownership could in any way justify your intrusion and acquisition of these properties," Judge Marich said.
One of Rossi's victims, a disability pensioner, described feeling angry, stupid and used.
"It didn't seem right to me that a police officer would be up to anything fraudulent," the man told the court in a statement.
"I was gutted. I felt like a fool.
"I still don't know why she did this."
The court was told Rossi was devastated and extremely remorseful.
She had dysthymia, a chronic form of depression, which the judge accepted would make her time in prison harder.
It followed an upbringing marred by violence, with her now-deceased father forcing her to eat rotten meat and denying her necessities including clothing.
Australian Associated Press