On the blog: Thank you and farewell Canberra

Assistant Commissioner Justine Saunders

Assistant Commissioner Saunders has worked locally, national and internationally over her 29 year career with the AFP. Her final two years have been spent as the Chief Police Officer for the ACT. Assistant Commissioner Saunders is leaving the AFP to take up a position at the Australian Border Force.  

I began my career with the AFP back in 1989 and was fortunate enough to spend the first 10 years of my career in ACT Policing. While the principles of community policing have remained the same, it is a vastly different environment we are operating in now.

As Canberra’s population and foot print has grown, so too has the need for policing services. In early 2017, I initiated a major strategic reform for ACT Policing through the ACT Policing Futures program. This program is aimed at ensuring we deliver a sustainable, efficient and effective service which will meet the long-term needs of the ACT Community.

While this is a long term project, a number of initiatives have been implemented, including the delivery of a new mobile communications platform to all ACT police officers, to improve their responsiveness in the field. This enables officers to be more flexible and dynamic in their approach to policing the ACT.

Unfortunately during my time as Chief Police Officer we have seen a rise in the number of Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs (OMCGs) in Canberra, and as a result, an increase in associated violent incidents in our community. I have not taken this lightly. Safety of the public is always our first concern and it has been one of the things that has kept me up at night.

I am pleased that police officers now have greater powers to disrupt the workings of these criminal groups through the introduction of new crime scene powers and anti-fortification laws in the ACT. This allows officers to secure crucial evidence at crime scenes and ensure those who seek to benefit from organised criminal activity are unable to do so from the safety of a fortified clubhouse or building.

However, more needs to be done to combat the ongoing threat these criminal groups pose, and I am confident OMCGs will remain a high priority for the next Chief Police Officer for the ACT; Assistant Commissioner Ray Johnson.

Policing is often a tough but rewarding job. For me, working with victims of crime was the most rewarding. We now have a much greater focus on supporting victims, particularly in the area of family violence, which allows us to build a trusting relationship – something that is so important in community policing.

One of the things I have enjoyed most in this role is engaging with the community. Police cannot act alone, it is through these partnerships that we will see the greatest impact and benefit to our community.

In my final weeks, I was fortunate enough to launch two new police boats on Lake Burley Griffin. I was given the honour of naming these boats Ngunnawal and Yhuuramulan as a symbol of our commitment to continue to build the relationship between police and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who call Canberra home.

I feel privileged to have worked with an amazing team of talented men and women who are genuinely passionate about protecting our community. Whether it’s the countless hours they spend keeping our roads safe, the numerous calls they answer in our police operations centre, or the detectives working for months to solve cases. The hours listening to and supporting victims, patrolling our streets or gathering intelligence, attending community events or the men and women working behind the scenes, each and every one of you should be proud of the work you do and the role you play in making Canberra one of the safest cities in the world.

While I feel like I am leaving too soon and there is a lot more I wanted to achieve, I am confident ACT Policing is well set for the future.