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Naked City: Lucinda Nolan, the Deputy Commisioner who almost didn’t make it as a police cadet

Posted by on 29/06/2018

Favourite job: Deputy Police Commissioner Lucinda Nolan loves being a police officer. Photo: Michael Clayton-Jones

Favourite job: Deputy Police Commissioner Lucinda Nolan loves being a police officer. Photo: Michael Clayton-Jones

Favourite job: Deputy Police Commissioner Lucinda Nolan loves being a police officer. Photo: Michael Clayton-Jones

Uniforms issued in 1972 with custom-made handbags large enough to carry batons.

Uniforms issued in 1972 with custom-made handbags large enough to carry batons.

Uniforms issued in 1972 with custom-made handbags large enough to carry batons.

It was supposed to be a crash course in reality for the brand new police cadet. She was on her way to a career as psychologist and thought two years of street lessons would prove the perfect finishing school for her university studies.

But there was a problem. She fell in love with policing, stayed ever since and now, 31 years on is Deputy Commissioner.

These days the only slightly disturbed people she sees on the couch are her family fighting over the remote to watch Hawthorn reruns. (All but one are committed Hawk fans – indeed the senior police officer has back-to-back premiership posters on her office wall along with a framed photo of former Chief Commissioner Mick Miller).

Lucinda Nolan went straight from a private girls’ school to complete a psychology honours degree at Melbourne University.

She was smart – smart enough to know that no amount of tertiary study could replace hands-on experience. She reasoned that her “fairly cushy life” in a middle Melbourne family was not the perfect preparation to help those touched by the dark side.

“I had no experience or exposure to deal with marriage breakdowns, violence, sudden death, drugs, alcohol misuse or sexual abuse,” she says.

Before heading to her master’s course, “I decided to work for a couple of years instead. And what better way to cram in life experiences, than to join the police force.”

It was 1983 and she could not know that the Victoria Police was about to undergo one of the most dramatic and traumatic periods of its history.

She joined a job that claimed to encourage women recruits but remained dominated by old-school men who thought diversity consisted of picking up some beef chow mein on the way home from the police club. In reality the policy was more lip service than lipstick friendly.

She was one of only four female recruits in her intake of 26 and, she would find much later, lucky to make the cut.

There was an unspoken quota system, one of the selection panel would later tell her. “I nearly wasn’t accepted because they thought they had enough women for one squad.”

Policewomen had to complete the same physical challenges as the males while being handicapped by a less than practical uniform.

“There is nothing like climbing over a cyclone fence in a tight A-line skirt  – particularly with a non-retractable baton stuck into a holder built inside the skirt.”

She was one of the last to be issued with police-approved handbags capable of carrying a  bulky .38 Smith & Wesson revolver. (The presumption must have been that a policewoman wouldn’t be assigned to dangerous duties or demented crooks would be chivalrous enough to stand still while she foraged around for a shooter.)

In the next few years, a series of one-off events changed the very culture of policing, although the new officer did not have the experience to feel the tidal shift.

A new superannuation scheme encouraged older police to retire and a recruiting push meant that in just a few years the average age dropped from 43 to 33.

In June 1985, she was assigned her first posting at the City West Police Station in Williams Street. At the same time Bulgarian army deserter turned professional burglar Pavel Marinof, dubbed Mad Max, shot four police and narrowly missed a fifth.

Eight months later, Detective Sergeant John Kapetanovski and his partner, Senior Detective Rod MacDonald, pulled over a panel van on the Hume Highway near Wallan driven by a suspect. Marinof shot Kapetanovski twice and Macdonald once, who returned fire, killing the gunman instantly.

The next month a car bomb planted outside the Russell Street police building exploded, killing policewoman Angela Taylor and injuring a further 21 people.

This was the environment that young police such as Nolan were left to confront, one where street cops felt at risk of ambush.

The following year she saw colleagues risk their lives at the Hoddle Street massacre where Julian Knight killed seven people and left a further 19 wounded and then at the Australia Post building in Queen Street where Frank Vitkovic killed eight people and injured a further five before he took his own life.

It showed all cops their job had suddenly become more dangerous. But soon for Nolan , it became personal.

Looking for more action she moved to the busy Prahran station and with female colleagues formed a netball side to compete in the Australian and New Zealand Police Games, held in Sydney. It was October 1988.

“We woke one morning at our accommodation to see the breaking news that two police officers from South Yarra had been murdered when responding to an abandoned car.”

They knew there was no South Yarra station and Prahran units often answered calls over the border. So they waited and hoped it wasn’t two of “theirs”.

“Some were in relationships with people working that night. It was a stressful time.”

Eventually they would find it was Prahran 311 manned by Constable Steve Tynan and Damian Eyre. “They were our close friends, colleagues and fellow officers – murdered for nothing more than wearing their uniform and responding to a job.”

“These murders had a profound effect on me, my colleagues and the organisation. It was a different culture back then. There was no counselling and we were expected to get back out there and get on with the job. I hope we have got better at providing support.”

The Deputy Commissioner doesn’t usually give personal interviews as she doesn’t want to be seen as a “wanker” prefering to “fly under the radar”.

She was persuaded to have a chat by the not inconsiderable charm of Naked City after we heard her speak for a Melbourne City Mission fundraiser the other week.

The venue was former Pentridge prison and the groovy music was provided by Justice Lex Lasry’s band of legal heavyweights known as The Lex Pistols.

She was not preaching to the converted but told her story to an audience of lawyers to try to  break down cop stereotypes. She told them: “Our culture, though problematic at times, is incredibly positive when the chips are down, when there are incredibly dangerous or complex circumstances to resolve, or when you just want to get something done, quickly and without fuss.”

What is immediately clear is in a profession that can breed cynicism and battle weariness, she remains an enthusiast. “Some people change as they go up the ladder,” says a former workmate. “But Lucinda is the same person she has always been.”

It was 12 months into policing she decided she was more suited to being a cop than a clinical psychologist.

“I loved it and still do. It is not one job but 100 so if you get sick of one thing you can go and do something different.”

Along the way she married a cop and had three children. She kept her maiden name, not as an act of feminism but one of oversight.

Back then you had to provide the wedding certificate to register a change of surname in police records and the couple couldn’t find it. By the time they did two years later, the moment had passed.

This proved a bonus for her husband, a senior sergeant who has built a productive career without being officially connected to the bigwigs at head office.

In the early years with her children, there was no job-sharing or part-time work and she had to find professional “hidey holes” to make sure she had the time to be a mother.

It was tough but as she tells staff today, “policing is not a sprint but a marathon. You can have it all but not at the same time.”

She has spent more than her fair share at the sharp end, working intelligence, crime department and general policing jobs.

One of her most challenging and frustrating jobs was as part of the Spectrum taskforce, the unit that hunted the serial child sex offender known as Mr Cruel, believed responsible for the murder of Karmein Chan, 13, who was abducted from her family’s Templestowe home in April 1991.

She believes taskforce detectives spoke to the offender. “We interviewed 10,000 nominated as suspects so if we didn’t he was an extremely lucky man.”

The question no-one can really answer is: if he was a serial offender, why did he stop after the Karmein Chan case?

Karmein went to the same school as another victim and had told her parents if she was in the same position, “she wouldn’t go without a struggle”.

One theory is she attempted to escape and saw something that could identify the offender who then shot her.

“I believe, as do others, the impact of the murder was so significant on him that he stopped offending.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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