Peter Thurtell is Mid North Coast Local Area Commander of Police, appointed eight months ago and based in Port Macquarie. His career has spanned more than a quarter of a century and included bringing someone back from the brink … literally. In his spare time Superintendent Thurtell, a 46-year-old lawyer, is also an international champion target shooter.
Geographically, the MNC command covers an area of more than 8500sq.km. along 160km of coast, extending inland for up to 85km. The area’s divided into 14 sectors: the three main sectors are Port Macquarie, Kempsey and Nambucca Heads; the smaller sectors include Lord Howe Island. Our authorised strength’s 165 officers.
I grew up on a farm in central west NSW with my parents and two brothers. As kids my older brother and I played polocrosse competitively; I represented NSW at junior level. After school I completed a fitter machining/toolmaker apprenticeship and worked at that for two years before joining the NSW Police Force in 1985. This was largely influenced by my older brother who’d joined the force in 1980 and was attached to the Mounted Police. I was stationed on general duties initially, at Redfern and Sydney Police Centre. In 1988 I embarked on a plain-clothes career and during my time as a detective I worked in the State Investigative Group, drug enforcement and the Fraud Squad. In 2000 I was promoted to Detective Inspector and Crime Manager at Chifley LAC, based on Bathurst. In 2005 I moved up to Superintendent and was transferred to Manning-Great Lakes where I was Commander until I transferred here. My policing career sparked an interest in studying law and I graduated in 1995. After College of Law post-graduate studies I was admitted as a legal practitioner two years later.
Outside of policing I’m married with three school-age children and my interests include full bore target rifle shooting. I’m a member of the Australian Rifle Team; we’re due to compete in England in a match against Britain in July. I previously represented Australia also at an international teams match in the US, in New Mexico, in 2008, where we competed against the US, England, Canada and Germany.
Policing is an occupation that requires an ability to exercise discretion in enforcing the law. I don’t subscribe to a zero-tolerance approach – because officers must retain the ability to determine how vigorously they respond to particular situations. But in saying that: violence towards my officers or vulnerable members of the community won’t be tolerated.
We are anxiously awaiting the opening of the new Kempsey Police Station, which will serve Kempsey and surrounding communities well into the future. It’ll include the latest security systems and give staff a positive, comfortable working environment.
Alcohol-related violence is of concern across the nation, including on the Mid-North Coast. We’re targeting alcohol-related offences and are one of a number of regions trialling the Your Choice program, a NSW Police initiative that affords choice to young people found drinking in a public place. The choice offered – instead of being issued with an infringement notice for the offence – is the chance to attend an information session with their parent or guardian.
What I like most about my present role is the variety of challenges. I least like ignorance of the good work police do. Some people think police are responsible for controlling all crime – but that’s an impossible task without community help. I’d like to see more of the community take an interest in local issues, particularly in how they can contribute to reducing crime. My only personal ambition right now is to do a good job as commander here.
Perhaps the most distressing moment in my policing career occurred in July three years ago when a colleague and I happened across a motor vehicle accident where a pedestrian had been hit by a car. We stopped and took control only to find the injured person was an off-duty work colleague from my command. Unfortunately he passed away, which was distressing for everybody. Yet I recall his funeral as one of my proudest policing moments: while funerals are never a good thing, the way his colleagues conducted the ceremony truly highlighted all that’s good about the culture of NSW police.
A particularly memorable moment in my life occurred in the mid-1990s. I was called on as a police negotiator to negotiate with a man standing at the edge of The Gap in Sydney, intending to take his own life. He’d been sexually abused as a child. After I’d spoken to him over many hours he moved back from the edge – and rushed at me. I feared he was going to try and take me over the edge with him … but in the end he hugged me and was crying uncontrollably. It’s memories like these that tend to dominate the less pleasant times and incidents.