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A forensic scientist: that could be me

During the inaugural Women’s Week celebrations, we’ll be sharing the stories of 10 of our successful female officers to inspire women to think ‘that could be me‘. 

BLOG_SNR CON MANDY WATENE

Senior Constable Mandy Watene was listening to Beyoncé’s ‘Crazy in Love’ when she got the call to say she was accepted into the QPS. Now nearly 12 years later, as a forensic scientist, she is passionate about using science to solve crime.

I’m from…

Central Queensland (Stonehenge/Aramac/Barcaldine).

My first job…

As soon as I graduated from University, I was employed at a Biotech Company (Moregate Biotech) as Quality Control Scientist.

I found my way to policing…

I always knew that I would have to join the QPS to do the kind of Forensics that I was interested in. I wanted to go behind the blue tape and process the homicide scenes. So joining the police was decision I made in Year 9. When I was in Year 11, all 19 students in Year 11 and 12 at Barcaldine State School came down to Brisbane to do work experience. I did my work experience in the section I now work in as well as Fingerprinting (there is a Courier Mail article about me on work experience with in forensic section. When the ladies in the Superintendent’s office were going through old folders, they found it and gave me a copy. Turns out everything I said I was going to do in that article, I did). I also knew that it would be beneficial for me to get lab experience before I joined the police to be able to draw on that experience to boost my resume. So after working for about six months at Moregate, I was accepted into the QPS.

My photo in the Courier Mail after I did work experience in the Forensics section

My photo in the Courier Mail after I did work experience in the Forensics section

Where I was when I found out I was in…

I was at home on my bed listening to Beyoncé (as you do) when I got the phone call asking me if I was able to start at the academy in a month. I was so excited and said yes without thinking about all the things I would have to organise in such a short time. It wasn’t easy but I made it happen and I started at the academy in June 2004.

My graduation with my parents

My graduation with my parents

My first day as a police officer…

My first day on the road was so exciting. 21 of the officers from my intake went to the city station to boost the police presence after a series of events in the city. It was great to already have so many friends at your new station. Everything we did on that shift would be considered uneventful and quite mundane but I remember thinking it was so exciting and I was fascinated by everything we did. I had one of the best Field Training Officers out there. His name was Brian Jones. He taught me how to do my job and how to have fun doing it.

As a recruit

As a recruit

My service history…

I have almost 12 years in the job. I did my FYC period in Brisbane City and was confirmed to Fortitude Valley (three years). Then I requested to go out to Emerald Station which was the complete opposite to city policing. I was out there for about four years before I applied for Scientifics. My plan was always to go to Scientifics but I enjoyed General Duties so much I wanted to do 10 years on the road before I specialised. I only ended up doing about eight years but the opportunity arose and I didn’t want to pass it up. I have been in the Scientific Section for four years and still have so much room to grow.

My role…

I belong to the Major Crime Unit and we attend scenes to identify, record and collect potential evidence. Major Crimes include homicides, missing persons, rapes, suspicious fires, explosions, Chemical Biological Radiological (CBR)/ counter-terrorism incidents. I have special authorisations in presumptive screening, blood pattern analysis, shoe comparisons, post blast examinations, CBR incidents and fire examinations. I participate in regular training with other units such as Scenes of Crime, Fingerprinting, Explosive Ordnance Response Team and external agencies such as Queensland Fire and Emergency Services and Australian Defence Force. My office primarily services the bottom half of Queensland but as a state resource I have been sent all over Queensland to assist the regional offices where required.

My typical day…

Is coming in to work not knowing what my next job will be or where I will be sent. When I am in the office it is a mad rush to catch up on all the paperwork I’ve accumulated, discussing with colleagues about the jobs and throwing around ideas and theories. But when there is a big job on like a homicide it can be anywhere, in any environment, the circumstance slowly unravelling as detectives and forensic try to reconstruct the events that occurred. This is actually the exciting part for me. It’s long hours at a scene trying to figure out what is relevant, what the evidence means and how to link offenders to scenes and victims. We have to form hypotheses, develop ways to prove or disprove our hypotheses and do it in a way that withhold the scrutiny of court. Because we are considered expert witnesses our evidence is held at a different standard and specific criteria must be met.

Briefing at forward command post

Briefing at forward command post

Outside of being a police officer, I…

I love anything outdoors and adventurous. I am regularly jet skiing, wakeboarding, surfing, kayaking, snowboarding, kitesurfing anything with a board really, rock climbing, abseiling, hiking. I enjoy photography and playing the piano for some down time activities but I much prefer to be out in the sun and on the water.

My family…

I am the oldest of 10 children (which is why policing came so natural 😊), the majority of which live in central Queensland. I am also a single mother of a six-year-old daughter. To allow me to work full time and shift work, I have a live-in Au Pair. It allows me to work as much overtime as is required to get a job done and allows me to work away from home.

With my daughter at the QPExpo

With my daughter at the QPExpo

My big love…

Besides my daughter, my big love is doing something outdoors and I love variety so my favourite hobby changes. At the moment, it’s snowboarding/jetskiing and I plan trips in both hemispheres to work around the seasons lol

Being a police officer has made me…

Confident, decisive, assertive and understanding. It has forced a change in my ability to communicate, listen and interact with others.

 My ‘professional edge’…

Is my passion and work ethic. I’m not the smartest person by any means but my successes have all been as a result of my passion for what I am doing. It drives me to find solutions to problems that I encounter, to go above and beyond to get results I am proud of. I also can’t sit still so when there was down time, which was the first nine months of being in Scientific, I used that time to research and understand a few of our specialised techniques better. As a result of this I was able to create an innovative technique that I have turned into a Masters thesis and also developed a previously under utilised tool, that being the forensic lights sources. I now seem to attract a lot of jobs whenever I’m on shift and haven’t had any down time in the last two years but I like it that way.

At the forensics awards

At the forensics awards

Biggest success…

My biggest success was receiving the Excellence in Forensics Award for 2014. Not only was I recognised for the work that I had always dreamed of doing but the specific work on a case that has been my biggest and most interesting case to date. It was 11 months of dedicated work and research and part of the success was as a result of research that I had been doing on the side to improve blood detection techniques using forensic light source in a manner that hadn’t been successful in Queensland before. I also received it for another job where this same research provided crucial evidence in the identification of a suspect for the violent rape and murder of an innocent victim.

Receiving the Forensic Excellence Award

Receiving the Forensic Excellence Award

I am inspired by…

Positive and passionate people, people who love their job and just love life in general. These are the ones that keep pushing the envelope within their field, are the best at their craft and the most enjoyable people to work with. In a job where cynicism and negativity are easy traits to adopt, it is motivating to work around people like this.

My CBR team in training

My CBR team in training

My biggest fan…

My daughter, but I’m pretty sure she thinks I can do what Barry Allan does on ‘The Flash’.

I’m the biggest fan of…

People who become subject matter experts. They generally have a passion for what they do which drives them to research and develop within their field. The enthusiasm and knowledge is both inspiring and motivating.

I look at this person and think ‘that could be me’…

With time and experience, I know that I will be able to accomplish that in one of my chosen fields. I have a passion for post blast and Chemical Biological Radiological (CBR).

An obstacle I’ve had to overcome…

Since Year 9 I wanted to be a Forensic Scientist but I was told by most of my teachers to choose a more appropriate career because it was really hard to get into Forensics. It was a small country school with only five people in my year. At University I also was encouraged by the faculty head not to choose Forensic Science as the career opportunities were so limited. At the time, my university didn’t offer Forensic Science as a co-major so when I didn’t take their advice, they tailored a program for me around forensic subjects (interesting side note: the lecturer who took my forensic science subject at QUT is my current Inspector in scientific). Then when I joined the police I was told that getting into Scientific was highly competitive and you would only get in if you had a Master’s degree already. I had to overcome all the doubts and negativity that others imposed which at time were hard especially from my teachers and lecturers when I was so young. But I quickly realised that someone has to get the jobs and only the dedicated make it.

My university graduation

My university graduation

A memorable moment in the QPS…

I was very lucky to be selected to represent Australia, in Canada for a counter terrorism capabilities exercise where we showcased our skills against USA, Canada and the UK. The Australia team consisted of state and federal police from all around Australia as well as the special operations engineer regiment of the Australian Army. The purpose of the exercise is to evaluate how each country would manage a large scale counter terrorism threat in chemical, biological, radiological and explosive scenarios. Australia performed the best of all the countries despite having the smallest contingent with the least amount of resources. I was able to make life long friends and contacts in agencies all around the country and overseas.

Funniest moment in the QPS…

There are too many to name individually and probably inappropriate in a formal setting but there is always something to laugh at.

My colleagues in the QPS…

For all their good qualities and all their bad, they are my work mates and they each bring something different and important to the table. I find ways to enjoy working with all of them although I do have my favourites. This does not just include in my section but all the other units we have to work with and around. They become life long friends, one of my best friends I met in my squad at the academy and we still keep in regular contact with a lot of our squad. I attend jobs all over the state and constantly run into people I have worked with in GDs or at the Academy.

A job with the fingerprinting branch

A job with the fingerprinting branch

Toughest part of the job…

Writing statements… We write statements for every job we attend, the longest statement I have written was 37 pages which is quite small compare to some people but still just as boring as it sounds. It is a crucial part of my job but that doesn’t make it anymore fun.  I much prefer to be out of the office, at a scene.

Best part of the job…

In specialist fields you are given the opportunity to develop through interstate and international courses. In the short time that I have been in Scientific I have had the opportunity to go on a numerous interstate courses for to blood pattern analysis, bomb scene examination, counter terrorism incidents (CBR), home made explosives etc, as well as an overseas trip to Canada for two weeks on a capabilities exercise.

My Master degree class

My Master degree class

A virtue to live by…

Your happiness can only be created by you. It starts with your thoughts! A shift in perception is all the difference between happiness and sadness.

Never say…

“It’s TOO hard.” It may be hard but that doesn’t make it impossible. Be dedicated to your cause and ‘hard’ just becomes a challenge you overcome.

The best advice I can give to a potential female recruit thinking ‘that could be me’ is…

Let go of your excuses. There are always going to be reasons you can’t do something but if you really want it, don’t let those reasons turn into excuses for why you didn’t at least try. Excuses are just fears trying to sound rational.

With Sunrise at the QPExpo

With Sunrise at the QPExpo

Visit policerecruit.com.au or call 1300 BE A COP.

For more stories from ‘That could be me’, visit here.

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