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Policewomen inspiring change – Thursday Island Criminal Investigation Branch

Karla on the northernmost tip of Cape York Peninsula

Karla on the northernmost tip of Cape York Peninsula

Plain Clothes Senior Constable Karla Place grew up in the far north and was schooled locally in Cairns.

She joined the Queensland Police Service (QPS) and worked throughout the Far North and Cairns for many years.

About five years ago, Karla opted for a sea change and transferred to Thursday Island (TI).

Thursday IslandInitially Karla thought TI was just a hop skip and jump from Cairns.

After a quick squiz at a map and a little bit of research she quickly realised TI was but one island, in our northern most Australian islands in the Torres Strait.

It is remote!

Karla in PNG

Karla in PNG

Thursday Island Division is in the Far North District in the Northern Police Region of the QPS.

This division takes in some 38 islands from the tip of Cape York, includes the Torres Strait Islands, and goes to within just 3km of the Papua New Guinea coastline.

The exception of the islands is Horn Island, which is a separate police division.

The TI policing division has a total population of some 8000 residents with the majority living on Thursday Island itself.

Karla is just one of 30 police officers working in this division.

Thursday Island Water Police vessel, 'William Conroy'

Thursday Island Water Police vessel, ‘William Conroy’

They are supported by the local Torres Strait Island Police Officers (TSIPO’s). She’s performed uniform first response duties, worked with the Water Police, then branched out into plain clothes work in the Child Protection and Investigation Unit (CPIU).

She is currently an investigator in the Thursday Island Criminal Investigation Branch (CIB) and is working her way toward getting her detective appointment.

Karla is one of 10 policewomen on the island and explains that policing in the Torres Straits is very different to policing in regional centers or other remote communities for that matter.

She, like all our policewomen, get in and do the same job the boys do.

Karla said, “We have 33 inhabited islands in the Torres Strait Islands, so logistically it’s much harder to respond to an incident over this vast area.

We have the ‘William Conroy’ which is our 22m water police catamaran. It can sleep 10 and patrols our waterways.

We have a small 8 seater plane based on Horn Island that we can use for search and rescues (SAR).”

Karla at left helping rangers secure a rogue crocodile in Bamaga

Karla at left helping rangers secure a rogue crocodile in Bamaga

On average the TI water police respond to approximately three SAR’s a week and look to additional staff, including Karla, to help in those searches on a regular basis.

Karla’s worked her way around the Cape and whilst she was working in Bamaga she had the time of her life at a truly unique job.

She said, “I actually had to help rangers to remove a rogue crocodile from a popular boat ramp. This is something that some people will never get to experience.

It was amazing and literally hands on as you can see in the photos.

Policing's never boring when you get to wrestle a croc - with help!

Policing’s never boring when you get to wrestle a croc – with help!

I’ve also been lucky enough to see my fair share of sea turtles, dugongs, sharks and whales whilst in the Torres Straits.

I’d rate these as very special experiences that I wouldn’t have had, had I not been working up here.”

In her role on TI, Karla works closely with other government agencies such as the Australian Federal Police, Australian Customs Service, AQIS, Immigration, Defence, Fisheries and the Papua New Guinea (PNG) Embassy.

Karla in the back row, third from right, working closely with other government agencies in both Australia and PNG

Karla in the back row, third from right, working closely with other government agencies in both Australia and PNG

Karla’s gained valuable experience dealing with these agencies as well as her own investigations.

She’s needed to manage her own crime scene examinations, look for evidence and take her own photographs at major incidents because the closest Scenes of Crime Officer (SOCO) was some two hours away.

A dedicated Scenes of Crime Officer (SOCO) has recently been appointed and is now stationed on TI.

After listening to Karla’s recount of her career and social experiences up on TI, it sounds more like a tourist brochure for a holiday of a lifetime.

TI has seen many officers throughout the state travel north as part of their service.

I have only ever managed a few fleeting visits when I was in the then Juvenile Aid Bureau many years ago, so I’ve not reaped the benefits of the local fishing and social atmosphere.

A spectacular sunset from the Fort at Green Hill, TI

A spectacular sunset from the Fort at Green Hill, TI

Karla said, “We are a very social bunch on TI. We have fundraisers and functions here regularly.

I helped to organise the boys to do Movember last year.

Our team, TI Bro’s Wit Mo’s came in second in the QPS Movember Network teams tally, which was an amazing effort for our area.

Most Sundays you can head to the Torres Hotel for a drink and listen to local identity ‘Seaman Dan’. He’s actually got six albums to his name and two ARIA’s to boot.

Karla at left with Detective Sergeant Kristy Wilson

Karla at left with Detective Sergeant Kristy Wilson and a curious sea turtle

Sunday afternoons on Friday Island which is not far from Thursday Island, is the perfect opportunity to have an authentic Japanese lunch, catch up with friends, sit under man made huts and look out at the crystal blue waters.”

Now before you turn green with envy, there is a downside to living in a remote location.

The cost of living is much higher and you don’t have the benefit of having a variety of choice when supermarket shopping. If you are a fan of eating out at restaurants, this too is limited.

Then again Karla disclosed that she not only gets a good supply of fish, but she can buy her favourite seafood, mud crabs, for just $5.

Police Airwing used in searches

Police Airwing used in searches

Karla says, “The cost of flights can be anywhere from $300 to $400 for a one way off the island.

The pros far outweigh the cons though.

If it wasn’t good, there is no way I would have stayed up here this long.  

I get to fly in helicopters and planes, travel to remote islands in police vessels, watch beautiful sunsets and meet amazing people every day.

The best part of all is that I actually get paid to do this job.”

Karla recommends policing in remote locations and gets to meet a variety of people from different cultures. Karla at right of two customs officers toward the rear of this photo. It's good to see these children know the best NRL team to cheer for. GO BRONCOS! (Yes they are my team too!)

Karla recommends policing in remote locations and gets to meet a variety of people from different cultures. Karla is standing to the right of two customs officers toward the rear of this photo. It’s good to see these children know the best NRL team to cheer for. GO BRONCOS! (Yes they are my team too!)

In 2011, Karla was asked to provide an article for ‘The Journal for Women and Policing’. Below is a copy of the article she authored, describing her policing career on Thursday Island.

Remote and Rural article - Page 1Remote and Rural article - Page 2Remote and Rural article - Paage 3

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