You may associate them with lights and sirens, but have you ever thought about what being a highway patrol officer involves?
The Courier recently had the opportunity to spend an evening on the road with two members of Ballarat's Highway Patrol team - Leading Senior Constable Chris Barker and Senior Constable Jeremy Hancock - in an effort to understand the complexities of what it takes to keep the city safe.
THE RIDE ALONG
I joined the pair a couple of hours into their shift when they were at the tail end of processing a woman who had been pulled over as the wheels of her car were in a poor condition.
Leading Senior Constable Barker had completed the preliminary drug and alcohol test, to which the woman - who had two children sitting in the back seat - tested positive to having drugs in her system. A second drug test was then undertaken and with a saliva sample obtained, the woman tested positive to methamphetamine.
The sample was then separated into two parts and packaged up - one part given to the woman as per protocol and one placed in a refrigerator at the back of the car until it could be sent to the laboratory for confirmation. How the woman is charged will be determined when the results are returned.
Leading Senior Constable Barker took care to be sensitive to the fact that the woman had two young children in the car and so allowed her to stay seated in her vehicle while the tests were being undertaken. When it tested positive, rather than saying the results out loud for the children to hear, he allowed her to read what she had tested positive to.
The woman was told not to drive for 24 hours. While filling out the paperwork on the roadside, one of the highway patrol car's four rooftop cameras picked up a car driving past that was registered to a driver with an expired licence.
We intercepted the car and it pulled over. The driver handed over his license, which clearly showed it was expired, and Senior Constable Hancock completed a drug and alcohol test, which the driver passed. He was issued with an infringement notice.
After a couple of hours of patrolling the roads and being shown the ropes of how to use the handheld speed camera, we were called to a two-car smash near Lake Gardens.
Upon arriving at the scene, the officers checked the occupants of both vehicles were uninjured and that an ambulance was not required to attend. Reports were then
taken from both drivers and a witness while the tow truck drivers rapidly cleared the road to prevent an ongoing disturbance to traffic.
The highway patrol car, a flashy BMW, is fitted with all of the latest safety features and technology. Eventually all Highway Patrol Units in Victoria will have one of these high-performance vehicles.
There are numerous components to the car's dashboard and plenty of flashing lights and buttons.
One of the most beneficial tools for the highway patrol is the automatic number plate reader, which scans the plates of all of the cars it passes.
The technology tells officers if a car's registration has expired, of the licence status of the registered car owner and if a person has any outstanding sheriff's notices with an audible beeping sound.
The technology, which Leading Senior Constable Barker said is like having another four police officers in the car, means police are able to focus on being proactive; checking for distraction offences like drivers using their phones while behind the wheel and for occupants wearing seatbelts.
If the police officers hear the beep, then they can look into what the camera has picked up and react accordingly.
On our ride along, the technology scanned hundreds of number plates and had a few dozen hits. It is just as effective at scanning number plates at night.
What the highway patrol is most well-known for is their speed detection technology, of which there are two systems in the BMW: both fitted and handheld technology.
The fitted technology is known as moving mode radar technology and works by a highway patrol officer locking in a speed limit of a road. A radar beam is sent out and bounces off passing cars to detect the speed they are travelling.
This technology differs from the handheld speed camera technology which is laser, and is used to detect speeding drivers when the highway patrol car is stationary. It can pick up a speeding driver across four lanes of traffic.
Other technology includes body worn cameras, which are activated upon leaving the car, and cameras on the police car itself, which record every intercept as soon as the lights and sirens are switched on.
Ballarat Highway Patrol is comprised of one senior sergeant, two sergeants and ten officers of other ranks. Members of the unit can travel up to 300-kilometres in a day as they patrol the region to catch offenders and keep communities safe.
It was clear from the outset that the two officers have a great relationship and are able to joke around with each other while still working together seamlessly and efficiently.
Senior Constable Hancock has been on the beat for eight years while Leading Senior Constable Barker will celebrate 20 years in the force this August.
Senior Constable Hancock spent two and a half years in Maryborough and has been in Ballarat for five and a half years. He began working at Ballarat Highway Patrol last year and is enjoying every minute.
"I have always been interested in traffic and absolutely love where I have ended up. We have a good team here," he said. "I like having a role that focuses on one side of policing - road policing."
With a background in small business, he enjoys working as part of a small team that operates as part of a larger business.
"We do a lot of proactive work. I find a lot of people get their licence but don't think about the dangers of the road so I like educating people of the dangers and the risks around driving and what the results can be," he said.
Distraction offences are huge [in this region] and so is people not wearing their seatbelts.
One of the most challenging parts of the job for all police officers is the inevitable occurrence of responding to serious road trauma, including incidents where people have been killed.
"I was prepared for it," Senior Constable Hancock said. "It doesn't take long to respond to an incident, whether it is death from a road collision, suicide or a medical episode like a heart attack.
"It doesn't take long to respond to one after graduating so you learn to deal with it quickly, but it affects people differently."
Leading Senior Constable Barker, who has been in Ballarat for more than a year now, has clocked up more than 14 years working in the highway patrol.
"Road policing is great because you are dealing with so many different people on a daily basis. You experience the highs and the lows and the best and the worst of people," he said.
If I have an impact it is taking an offender off the road and helping to achieve justice.
He enjoys being a part of the Ballarat Highway Patrol as it is close-knit team.
"We all support each other and are able to return to the office and express what we need to, whether it is to vent or to joke. It is important to feel comfortable in a team and be able to talk about what we see," he said.
The pair agreed that having confidence in their offsider makes all the difference:
"To get the job done you need to do it safely, efficiently and by looking after each other," Senior Constable Hancock said.
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