SERGEANT Debra Rowe used to think there were two types of people – police, and suspects.
But after 36 years in the NSW Police Force, her focus has changed from wanting to help victims and her colleagues, to wanting to help offenders access the support they need.
“I have wanted to get inside the heads of offenders – not to go soft on them in any way, but to point them in the right direction, or to link them into some sort of treatment,” Sergeant Rowe said.
It is why she has met news of her “medical discharge” from operational duties due to a bad back this week with excitement, not grief.
Sergeant Rowe was inspired to secure funding to establish an Ice Smart Recovery Program within Hamilton South’s Department Of Housing estate after witnessing the impact crystal methamphetamine was having on the community.
Police had referred more than 50 people into the program since it began in February.
“To be part of that is just fantastic,” she said.
Sergeant Rowe will continue to work as a volunteer in Hamilton South throughout her retirement.
“I won’t be there everyday – I’ll be catching up with my husband and children and grandchildren, but I know I’ve still got some work to do there,” she said. “I feel like this first 36 years has been preparing me for this next chapter. I spent a lot of my career in that community arresting people. And now I want to give them some hope.”
Sergeant Rowe has been a pioneer for women in the NSW Police Force.
In April, 2000, she was the only female sergeant working in “general duties” in the Hunter Region.
While there had been 320 women in the force when she joined. Now there was almost 5000, she said.
“Most of those women had come across from their own police force just a few years before, when we merged,” she said.
“In the late ’70s, if you joined the police force as a woman, you joined your own police force. You didn’t even get a gun. You just did traffic duties, and school lecturing.
“Just before I joined, if you got married, you had to resign. Now the boss has to provide a fridge for our breast milk. We have come so far in terms of equality.”
Sergeant Rowe said she had forfeited promotions to maintain a street presence.
“I knew that’s where I personally knew I could make the most difference to the community, interacting with offenders and victims.”
She played a key role in a training program called IPROWD – Indigenous Police Recruiting Our Way – to help Aboriginal people gain entry to the NSW Police College.
“That has been another highlight of my career,” she said. “I worked on that for seven years.”
But she said she could not have achieved the things she had in the community without the support of her husband, Tony, and their children.
“I've had to make a lot of personal sacrifices over my career with social functions and special events. In many of our family Christmas photos, I'm in uniform,” she said.
“I have been with Tony since high school. He is the reason I have been able to manage a family and a career.
“My strong Christian faith has kept me grounded, and is the reason I want to help people in Hamilton South.”
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