[This article discusses multiple forms of trauma, including childhood trauma, sexual assault, and mental health.]
I’m currently known as the cop who quit Victoria Police in protest, but my life leading up to that event was less than conventional and I am confident it was a key factor in what drove me to speak out against government control and policing of the pandemic.
My beginnings were not the greatest start to life. I was born into this world a product of sexual assault and told I existed because ‘the pill the doctor gave me didn’t work’. My mother didn’t mean any ill will towards me, she was simply stating a fact. Despite my unexpected start to life our relationship now is solid and I would defend her to the ends of the earth from anyone.
My social worker files from a young age described me as precocious and having a very strong sense of what is ‘right and wrong’ – often to my own detriment! (If only that social worker had known how true a statement that would turn out to be.)
Being put into the care of the State and subsequently growing up in a ‘home for boys and girls’ had its pros and cons like anything in life. Like most people, my upbringing played a vitally important role in who I became as a person.
I hated being in ‘care’. I hated that the government was in control of my life and that I needed ‘permission’ from a faceless government entity to do just about anything. If you got invited to a slumber party, the parents of the birthday child had to get a police check done, so you stopped going out of embarrassment. School camps were often missed due to the deluge of paperwork required to be submitted to be ‘cleared’ to go. I had to give a ‘pitch’ to a room of bureaucrats as to why I should be funded to play a musical instrument in primary school. I had to advocate for myself to have more access time with my mother and half-sister. The carers of the home shared my frustrations and the lack of agency they had in being able to ‘parent’ us as normally as they would have liked. I was one of the fortunate ones to have my carers become my foster parents and then finally adoptive parents just before I turned 16 and ran away – but that’s a whole other story.
I believe the reason I value libertarian principles has a lot to do with my start in life – from the system that controlled me to the wonderfully engaged carers in the home that raised us. Interestingly, several other children from the home also identify strongly with the libertarian philosophy. When we were in the home, it was ‘us’ against the system. Our carers consistently fought for our rights in the home, used every moment as a teaching opportunity (usually about resilience or self-discipline), and would never ever let any kid in the home use their trauma as an excuse to harm others or as an excuse to not try to better their lot in life.
After surviving my childhood and adolescence relatively unscathed, joining Victoria Police was an incredibly proud achievement for me. It was proof and evidence to myself and every naysayer social worker (some, not all) that saw us kids as ‘no hopers’; and I had proven I was better than that. It also provided me with an education I couldn’t afford on my own at university. It was an opportunity to really feel like I was giving back to the community and created a sense of self-worth. I was proud to serve the Victorian community for 16 years – and Victoria Police provided me with the longest structured safety net I had ever had in my life.
I share a small part of my upbringing to show you that my decision to speak out and leave Victoria Police was not just a decision about ‘doing the right thing’, because if it had been just about that, in all honesty, I would have left much earlier in the pandemic response. Victoria Police had been my lifeline, my entire identity of success, and the one constant concrete thing in my life I could rely on to be there for me. It wasn’t just a job; it saved my life.
In March 2020, I watched as Daniel Andrews began implementing mandates in a manner that demonstrated no compassion or understanding of how those measures could impact vulnerable people in the community. My childhood trauma resurfaced and I needed a mask exemption. I was not supported in my workplace over the mask issue and I was confused and angry at the lack of compassion not only for myself, but for others in similar situations.
I was verbally accosted in the streets like many others, and it all felt like this now openly hostile community behaviour was being sanctioned by both Daniel Andrews and Victoria Police. Ironically, after the less-than-compassionate response I had from the department I was working in, I moved to Gender Equality and Inclusion Command and worked directly for Daniels Andrews’ former Chief of Staff, Brett Curran.
As the months wore on, I witnessed government control increase in every aspect of our daily lives. Victoria Police turned from its ‘community-focused’ policing mentality toward a strict enforcement of health orders above all else. Our organisational values seemed to be thrown out the window. Video footage was emerging almost daily of police being over-zealous. Dan was on our TVs every night scolding, berating, or gas-lighting us. The protests pushing for less government control seemed pretty reasonable and not all that surprising to me, but my organisation’s response to them quickly escalated beyond any point of reason.
I struggled and wrestled with my decision to speak out. But no matter how I tried to downplay or minimise the harm occurring, I would always end those internal conversations with, ‘But you know this is fundamentally wrong. What side of history do you want to be on?’
Organisationally, I believe we failed to consider the detrimental impacts our actions would have on community relationships. It is easy to be an armchair critic and claim you could have done things better, but I stand by my comments. Victoria Police had spent years building a culture on its values, investing millions of dollars in management capability uplift programs and reviewing and updating the police values (of which I contributed to). We had the foundational building blocks to respond to this pandemic in a completely different way, but we chose not to, and I want to know why.
Is it because there is too much politics in policing? How much of the Victoria Police response was dictated to Shane Patton, like the rest of the community was dictated to by Dan? I can’t believe (or at least I don’t want to believe) that Shane Patton, the ‘back to basics policing’ champion, would have come up with the response we gave. I certainly don’t believe that Shane Patton would have endorsed the commentary in briefings to police officers working the protests that ‘any and all use of force will be justified’.
Where did this aggressive narrative and totalitarian response of Victoria Police come from, and how can we pursue greater impartiality of policing from politics in the future, to ensure this doesn’t happen again?
The legislation that exists currently for police was updated in 2013 to the Victoria Police Act. The new Act included a number of changes relevant to a new and modern-day police service. However, some changes between the old and new Acts have led to the government of the day in Victoria having far more control over Victoria Police than the community should feel safe about.
Currently, senior police are appointed to their roles by politicians and placed on short-term contracts. The adage ‘you don’t bite the hand that feeds you’ is true… The current Victoria Police Minister meets with the Chief Commissioner on a weekly basis to discuss how policing will affect politics. Our current system supports a senior police force operating from a position of ‘do what’s best for your government and your job security’.
I believe Victoria Police has lost its way and is losing good members at an alarming rate. Unless something changes even more people with integrity will leave, and I worry about what sort of police force that leaves an already traumatised and distrusting community.
To those who value transparency, integrity, and impartiality, we must demand a change to get politics out of policing once and for all.
Krystle Mitchell is running as the #2 Senate candidate in Victoria for the Liberal Democrats.
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