“Just writing up my first police statement,” says Caitlin, in reply to my casual question of how things are going. It’s not the usual answer you expect, but Caitlin Robinson is anything but usual.
I’m chatting with her on the phone ten weeks into her first session at the Police Academy in Goulburn. There are fourteen weeks in session one, and it sounds like she might be ready for that break when it comes.
Session one is very heavy on the theory of policing – learning what rights you have, what powers you hold, what your role is in policing the law (it’s funny how we forget that ‘police’ can be a verb as well as a noun, with all its connotations of taking care and keeping order).
“It’s very classroomy,” says Caitlin. “A lot of us were sitting there in week one thinking what have I done?” New recruits get their heads stuffed full of paperwork, and then examined on their understanding of it, again and again. The NSW Police Force is rigorous in its drilling of new recruits. “It’s a bit stressful,” she says. “But then you cruise along for a bit… until the next exam.”
She’s quick to point out that she, and all her fellow classmates, feel very taken care of. “From the first day they tell you they’re there to help you out. They want you to do well. They want all of us to do well.”
And your classmates are enjoying it too? “Everyone’s adjusted to it now,” she says. “You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t know what you were getting yourself in for.”
I don’t know about the experience of the other recruits, of course, but I suspect Caitlin had a better understanding than most of what she was about to be put through. Both of her parents were serving officers, as were a lot of their family friends growing up. Like most Police Legatees, she has policing in the blood. And like a lot of Legatees, she has a love for the family that supported her growing up.
“If it wasn’t for Legacy I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now,” she says simply. She always had the idea in the back of her mind that she might apply for the police force. But about a year ago, when she started looking into it more seriously, it just clicked. “It felt right… It’s an opportunity for me to give back.”
When she talks about “All the Easter days, all the Christmas days, all the reunions that we had…” it’s easy to understand how important Police Legacy has been to her life. It’s the shared connection with the other young legatees that really makes that bond so important. “You can not see someone for six years, and then when you do it’s like you just saw them yesterday,” she says.
She paints me a picture of the many Police Legacy camps she’s taken part in – spending time with the Highway Patrol in Queensland, getting gloriously sunburned in Dubbo, setting up a quarantine zone with crime scene tape at one of the campsites “because all the boys had man flu”.
And now here she is in Police Academy, following in the footsteps of many brave young people before her. Session two is a lot more hands-on. Weapons training, in-field procedures – a lot more physical. It sounds like most of the recruits are looking forward to getting a bit more practical. It’s unlikely to be any easier though, with all of the training being solid, stringent, and conducted under rigorously-controlled conditions. The Academy is all about the discipline of policing.
I ask Caitlin if she’s aiming for a particular speciality, but she tells me she’s just “taking it as it comes”. Get through session one, then get through session two. Get through your practical placement. Get through your first year as a probationary constable, then your stint as a full constable after that. Then see what happens. It’s an eminently sane philosophy. If even half the twenty-year olds in the world were as grounded as Caitlin, the future would be in very safe hands.