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Former Echuca police inspector looking to catch fish instead of crooks

After nearly 37 years in the police force, former Campaspe Inspector Martin Dorman has hung up his hat. The 58-year-old and his wife Alice are heading back ‘‘home’’ to the High Country to enjoy their well-deserved retirement.

IVY WISE June 10, 2014 3:34am

Martin Dorman.


Joining Victoria Police Force in 1977, former Campaspe Inspector Martin Dorman progressed through the ranks in Seymour, Coburg, Brunswick, Maryborough, Orbost, Wodonga and Stawell.

He came to Echuca in 2011 to lead the Campaspe police service area. Before that, he was in Wangaratta where he served as operations support inspector.

So what does retirement have in store for a veteran of the police force — someone who’s dedicated his life to protecting and serving his community and, in his early years, putting his life on the line for others?

Journalist Ivy Wise finds out, and also talks to him about life in the force, the changes he has seen and what challenges are in store for his replacement, Paul Margetts.

How would you describe your time in Echuca?

It’s been very enjoyable. There are a number of points that have made it enjoyable. First of all, the people you are working with, in the sense that they really never caused me much grief, my staff. I found them to be dedicated to the community, professional in outlook. There have been changes in the culture that probably have taken place prior to me getting here and we’ve managed to keep that impetus going. From an internal professional point of view, it was a good place to work.

What were your biggest issues from a crime point of view?

Probably one of my biggest frustrations was that you could never really get on top of your petty crimes; things such as thefts from motor car and our burglaries would tend to ebb and flow all the time. In the last two years, we started to see the prevalence of ice and the effects it was having on sectors of our community. And also, where there were incidents of violence and ice involved, the level of violence was another notch up.

How do you deal with that?

With ice, there’s been a number of public forums and a parliamentary inquiry looking at trying to get around the whole issue. At a local level, we had our special effort there 18 months ago with a group of three members and their sole task was to target drugs. Ice was one of them. Cannabis was the other.

Is ice the worst drug you have seen during your career?

It’s pretty bad. If I wind the clock back, to the late ’80s, early ’90s when I was a Sergeant in Brunswick, there was heroin. The place was awash with it then. Sometimes we tend to have short memories. And if I wind back the clock again to when I was a Constable in Coburg, there was a lot of heroin. There was a lot of crime around burglaries and armed robberies associated with drugs. It’s hard to say whether it’s worse or better, but one thing I can say is it’s not good. In the last five years, in my observations, ice is, from a rural point of view, pretty ordinary. To have levels of violent crime we’ve been getting in the last 18 months in a rural town, which is over and above what’s it’s been in the past, is quite distressing ... It’s the devil incarnate.

Drugs have been around for so long and will be into the future, so it’s not a problem you can fix is it?

I think our role in policing is predominantly around enforcement. There are other sections of government and society that have other responsibilities; health and education, some of the law makers, so whilst it’s an offence, I see our role as enforcement and we shouldn’t lose sight of that.

Why did you decide to join the police force?

I was a boilermaker in Newcastle when BHP laid off thousands of people and that had a knock-on effect and the company I was working with went to the wall. A mate’s uncle was a policeman in St Arnaud, so I went down and stayed with him. He took me to join the police force and that’s where I am. And more than happy to be in Victoria as opposed to NSW and am retiring into Victoria.

Are there a lot of differences between the NSW and Victorian police force?

Oh no. I’ve spent most of my career (on the border). If you look at the map of Victoria and NSW along the border, I was a senior sergeant at Orbost so I had oversight over what I used to call the ‘‘thin edge of the wedge’’. Prior to that, I was the Senior Sergeant at Wodonga which was a border station and I’d been the Sergeant-in-charge of Corryong which was also a border station. And during various times at Wangaratta you had dealings with the NSW police along the border and, of course, here I am here. I’ve been a special constable in NSW, I think first sworn in in 1984, so I’ve worked over the years with my counterparts over the river at all the various ranks.

Do cross-border issues get in the way of policing?

Only if you want to let policy get in your way. And I say that in a sense that the commonsense approach to the here and now issues that are happening,... Say if it’s in Moama, you address the issue as a policeman, irrespective of which state you’re from. It’s who takes ownership of what later on and what procedural processes must be followed at a later time for the administration, for the courts and particularly if there are arrests, extraditions, evidence... but in the here and now stuff, like a case of going over and backing up NSW at a motor car accident, domestic violence issue or armed robbery, we’re still the police. I’ve always found the police in NSW think the same way we do and over the years we’ve had a good relationship. There’s none of that ‘‘us and them’’.

How has policing changed since you first started in the force?

We’ve seen complexity, when in actual fact it should be simplicity. We’ve seen risk in areas where there should be no risk, where commonsense should apply. But by and large, the role I performed as a constable, whether it be in Melbourne or Maryborough or Seymour and the various areas I’ve worked, 36 years ago is no different to what the role is now. Still attending domestic violence, still attending motor vehicle accidents. When you can, you still get out and talk to people and try and make someone’s life a bit better. What has changed are the artefacts we carry. If you look at the equipment vest, how we view health and safety, that’s changed from nothing to, as a manager, 100 per cent of what you’re thinking. Members now have OC spray. Some areas have tasers. I’ve handed my handcuffs in. I was issued them nearly 37 years ago, but they’re the new-style handcuffs. When I first graduated, you received your cap badge and cap, handcuffs and old rubber truncheon, which went the way of the dodo in the 80s, and then you had the night sticks. The equipment members have now is far superior. The fit-out of the vehicles is now far superior... so we’re a more efficient force, more effective force and a safer force.

Over the years, you would have seen nearly every kind of accident and emergency?

Yeah, probably the only thing I haven’t attended is a plane crash. I’ve attended car crashes and a lot of fatal accidents.

What has been the most difficult part?

There’s two difficult jobs. First, and this is as an operational police man as opposed to a supervisor, is notifying next of kin if there’s been a sudden death. I’ve done it a fair few times.

Does it get easier?

I don’t think so. The first one I did in a senior role was when I was a constable at Coburg and we’d advised a girl who’d only been married for four to five weeks and her husband was working at the rigs and he’d only gone out there a couple of days after their honeymoon and he was killed on the rigs. That was pretty hard. Bear in mind, I was only 22 or 23.

Are you trained in what to say?

Not then. It’s just part of being a human being, talking to people and being able to communicate. What I’ve found is that I’ve spent most of my time in rural Victoria and that’s where it’s difficult if a) you know the deceased, particularly of it’s a kid, and b) you know the family and that becomes somewhat hard. I had an incident there years ago and I came across the accident. A chap who my age who’d gone off the road and was killed, well he died when I was there. And in the wash-up, I went to the parents’ farm and I had to advise them. And it’s funny how life turns, as I became quite close with the father and we’d often catch up down the street or he used to pop into the station and we’d talk and yet his wife never spoke to me again for the rest of her life. But I can’t blame her for that. I was the bearer of bad news. Not that there was any blame apportioned to me, but that was just her response and that was fine. I accept that.

Accidents involving children must have been hard too.

 

Yes. There was one time, my children were two and three, and one of my workmates, his children were the same age, and his two-year-old died of sudden cot death. I had that job and the sad part was the child that died was the healthy child. They’re the difficult jobs, but by the same token, it’s a job where you see what’s going on in society and in your community and you tend to see it warts and all. I found it quite a rewarding job. Where I found it rewarding was where you could do an action and you got a benefit from it. But as you get older, you feel like you’re on a merry-go-round.

Did being a police officer and seeing the worst in people make you a strict or overprotective father?

If you speak to my daughter and her friends, they reckon I was always the soft touch. Mum was the tough one. But with my son I was probably a bit too tough... but my wife and I had a great relationship with our two kids. When the kids were teenagers and I know they’re susceptible to peer pressure, it never really fazed them though and they were always pretty focused on what they wanted to do.

Did you discuss your job much with your family?

I was open with them. I was always mindful, living in small community there’s certain things you hear and see that you don’t relate back to the family. The other thing you have to do is be mindful that you’re not inquisitorial with your own family with what’s going on in the community. We kept our private life independent of my police life. It goes towards your sanity too. It’s not fair on the family.

It must have been tough on your wife to have a police officer as a husband, worrying about your safety?

I always used to say to the family, when we lived in a couple of small towns, the most dangerous front door in the town is the front door of the police residence because from time to time, you get the idiot who goes to the police station and there’s no-one there and he comes to the police residence. I had an incident one day, I was on afternoon shift there was a knock on the front door and it was one of our local villains who was going through an episode. He’s got a big machete and swinging it around carrying on and, anyhow, I talked him down and arrested him and duly charged him.

Have there been many times where your life was in danger?

You tend to get into situations where you’re extremely uncomfortable and where the adrenaline is rushing. It doesn’t happen as often when you get older.

Have you ever been shot?

No.

Have you ever had to shoot someone?

No.

But you’ve been in tricky situations?

Anyone that has 10, 20, 30 years in this game, if they haven’t been, it’s obvious they’ve been hiding behind a desk. As I’ve progressed through my career, my final role was ensuring our members go home of an evening.

How do you handle the stress of the job?

I don’t know. I think I’ve probably handled it pretty well. I’ve still got my sanity, although my wife would sometimes beg to differ.

Dealing with trauma on a daily basis would have to affect police officers after a while?

Yes, you need regular breaks. We get nine weeks annual leave. If you’re out in the street continually dealing with that 5 per cent of the population that need assistance, it would wear you down. As a manager, I’ve seen a number of members who have been burnt out.

What do you consider your biggest achievement in the past three years?

I think one of the biggest ones is getting our new police complex funded.

Are you disappointed that you won’t be here to see it?

No, not really. It’s nice to know that the girls and boys here are going to be in a good house in a few years’ time. The conditions of this place are very much 1960s. They should have let the termites keep chewing a few years ago. The place would have tumbled down. I think the gaining of the police station one of the best outcomes I’ve seen here in the three years.

What will be the biggest challenge for your replacement, Paul Margetts?

Keeping a close rein on our crime in the area. We tend to know what the drivers are and we can address and put strategies in place. But there are areas that we don’t have any control over and I won’t elaborate on that. The critical areas are burglaries, theft from motor cars and family violence and linked in with all of that is the undertone of drugs.

Why are you retiring now?

A number of reasons. Family is the first. I’ve lost two brothers-in-law in the last six months. I buried them. And that’s when you know you’re finite and you’ve only got a certain time on the planet and also my superannuation had reached a point where I believe it will be at a level where my wife and I can live quite comfortably. We also gave our daughter (a school principal) an undertaking last year and told her ‘‘If you do do it, we’ll assist with the babysitting’’.

How many grandchildren do you have?

Three. A little girl in Canberra and two up home.

And where is home?

Corryong. We have family up there. It’s home for us.

So, apart from babysitting, do you have any other plans?

I’ve already started getting back into fly fishing up in the Snowies.

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