A DETECTIVE BEHIND THE THIN BLUE LINE

December 1 2014

– Detective Sergeant Steve Howard has been in the NSW Police since 1990
If you switch on the TV at night, chances are some sort of police or crime drama will be on.
These programs give a dramatised look at the role of a police detective, as they try to solve baffling crimes and bust hardened crooks.
But is what they show even close to what life as a detective is really like?
Detective Sergeant Steve Howard is the Investigations Manager for the NSW Police’s Lachlan Local Area Command (LAC), based in Parkes in central west NSW.
Sgt Howard joined the police force in 1990, and transferred to Forbes from Sydney in 1995.
His role is to now oversee the management of seven detectives in the Parkes station, as well as to supervise investigations himself in the LAC.
The process

Becoming a detective in NSW is a long and involved process.
After a minimum of two years working in general duties, officers who show an expression of interest spend six months in the detective’s office on a rotation.
From there, they’re assessed, and if the results are positive they face the ‘Bull Ring’ – a selection assessment made by senior police officers. There they are quizzed with scenarios, and tested about their knowledge of charges and the law.
If officers pass the assessment, they go on a waiting list to become a ‘plain clothes officer’ where they work as a detective, but aren’t fully certified. This process lasts a minimum of 12 months.
Successful officers then attend a year-long training course at the Goulburn Police Academy. Once finished, they are fully-designated detectives.
What makes a good detective?

Detectives are the people assigned to investigate some of the most confronting and heinous incidents that happen in our communities.
It’s a job that requires a special set of skills- including an analytical mind and emotional resilience.
“[Having] tenacity is a big thing, [and] being able to overcome a hurdle [are required skills],” he said.
“As police, we have to play by the rules, and we’ve got to abide by the law. A lot of criminals don’t have any of that to deal with- they can lie, cheat, do whatever they like.
“We’ve got to be able to outsmart them. That’s challenging, but when you get a result, it’s very satisfying.”
A day in the life of a detective

As with many parts of NSW, a broad array of crime is perpetrated each day in the Lachlan LAC.
From sexual assaults and suspicious deaths, to car crashes and robberies, Sgt Howard and his team are faced with cases of varying levels of complexity.
“Each day is a different day. You can come into work and might find that you’re at the desk for the entire day doing paperwork and supervisory duties,” said Sgt Howard.
“Other days you can come in [and be out in the field] – like last week, there were a couple of serious motor vehicle accidents, and we were all out there working on those for the entire day.
“Even though each day you think you know what you’re going to be doing, often you aren’t because it takes a different tangent.”
Fact versus fiction

On television, police dramas are some of the highest-rating programs on air.
But do they overly-dramatise what the job of a detective is?
“I physically can’t watch those shows,” said Sgt Howard.
“I find them too frustrating that they’ve actually arrested somebody and they’ve got their DNA back within an hour, and they’ve got these magic things that pixelate all the pictures; it’s quite ridiculous at times.
“There are some good shows out there, [but other ones] are too much, I can’t watch them.”
With a new breed of want-to-be police officers applying for the academy each year, do these police shows give a false sense of what life in the force is like?
“Anybody who’s been here for a short period of time will soon realise that what you see on TV is not how it is in reality,” said Sgt Howard.
“I think anybody that comes in as a general duties police officer will find out what it is like- there’s a lot of time spent on the street, but there’s also a lot of paperwork that we have to do too.”
The detectives in the Lachlan LAC have a large workload, with each officer having up to 10 cases on the go at once.
Sgt Howard said often the public doesn’t understand the limitations of a detective’s job.
“Some of the public expect to get results [like on the TV shows],” he said.
“They expect us to go and get DNA or fingerprints off a crime scene back within a day, and when we say that it could be several weeks, they think, ‘It can happen on TV, so why can’t you guys do it?'”
Challenges and rewards of the job

Having been in the central west for almost 20 years, Sgt Howard said the difference between country and city policing is dramatic.
He said detectives in rural areas are more connected to their community, which adds another level of complexity to investigations.
“When something happens, generally you will often know the victim [or the] offender.
“I like to think that there’s more of a compassionate side to how we do things [out here]. We take crime a bit more personally too,” he said.
“I’ve got a detective that lives in Orange, one in Canowindra, Forbes, and Parkes. We’re all part of the community.”
Sgt Howard said he still finds the job rewarding and plans to remain in the police force for some time to come.
“I like the challenge of what we do. It keeps your mind active and makes your day go pretty quickly; but it’s always satisfying.”
– Robert Virtue

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About Jumpin' Jack Cash

Deep connections are the most important aspect of my existence. I don’t care if people don’t know what they want. I love books. I’m cynical of love stories, although I’m romantic. I adore gardens. I like women who challenge me. I love the rain as an excuse to stay inside and dream. I'm furiously impatient. If I ask you a question best to tell me the truth as I'm likely to already know the answer. I'm a carnivore. I continuously underestimate the magic of fresh flowers in my home. I love warm rain in the summer. My mood elevates to epic proportions when the sun shines. Tell me not to do something and I'll do it twice and take photos. Running is my antidepressant. I loathe lies. I rarely forgive a lie. Loyalty and honesty are my most noble virtues, and I value them more than anything in other people. I love to love, and am able to fall in love very quickly, although it's only ever happened once. I understood myself and fixed myself only after destroying myself. My greatest excitement comes from deliberately getting lost in foreign cities. I can be extremely loud and frighteningly silent. I hate insinuations. I love storms. Justice for all. I'm a proud man, but welcome the influence of the feminine soul. I have two sisters. I’m a dreamer. I’m a deep thinker. Don’t deal with guilt trips or drama that well. I'm extremely stubborn and persistent. I'm brilliant at keeping secrets. I love driving. I become absolutely and completely lost while watching a burning fire. When the toast pops from the toaster I’m never ready and shit myself. I play the guitar, but require much improvement. Solitude and warmth of the sun are perfect together. I’ve been married once and now divorced. I’m a music junkie. Chocolate mousse is the shit. I curse too much. I find it difficult to make friends. I spent four years as a firefighter. I’ve run my own company since 1991. Bright lights, big cities. I’ve been an executive producer of a feature film. Some people don’t care, and that’s the biggest let-down of the human race. There are cures and solutions for many evils, but no remedy for the worst of them all - the apathy of human beings. The sound of the Italian language being spoken is as good as my favourite music. I hate corrupt cops. I relentlessly and passionately pursue anybody and anything that sets my soul on fire. I'm a dog lover, and all my dogs are considered family members. I have an obsession with photography. I have some close friends who are household names, but shall always remain anonymous. I’m crazy but not lazy. Losing a soulmate has hurt me badly. My two young sons are the nucleus of my universe. I love airports. I love freedom. If you are dishonest or disloyal, I can erase you from my life and memory immediately and permanently. I yearn to explore, dream about and discover as many friendships, deep connections and places, one possibly can in a lifetime.
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