Top cop walks the Facebook beat

A senior police officer is using social media to connect the community and prevent crime, as Anthony Pinda reports.

Boroondara’s top cop’s beat is now a 20 x 30 centimetre computer screen in a cramped office with little light from a window which overlooks a cement wall in suburban Kew.

Members of the ill-fated 2015 Brisbane Lions team look down from a poster on the wall near his desk. “My brothers and I are proud Roy boys,” he says. “We stuck with the club after the merger with Brisbane and through the peaks and troughs of the past decade.”20150918_084454.jpg

A former dental technician who joined the force 20 years ago impressed by the police response after his parents’ home was broken into, Senior Sergeant Mark Standish, 53, has kept community ties while rising through the ranks of Victoria Police.

“He is the vital nexus that connects police officers back with the community, he works hard on creating and maintaining relationships within the local area,” says a colleague, Sergeant Paul Ritchie.

“He simply understands how the world works. For an officer of his era, you would never expect the innovative ideas he comes up with and the amount of time he spends utilising the internet.”

Using Facebook, Boroondara police have been able make arrests based on information provided to them by the public via social media.

“It is new the age of crime fighting,” Senior Sergeant Standish says. “Social media is the best way for the police to get vital information to the public in a matter of seconds. It is the game-changing edge we have needed for a long time to help prevent crimes.”

Senior Sergeant Standish’s enthusiasm for crime prevention has opened a new avenue of police work. The senior sergeant set out to create an active relationship between police and community by reinvigorating the almost defunct Neighbourhood Watch program.

Launched in 1983, Neighbourhood Watch Victoria grew from a need for change in the way “Victorians approach and manage crime,” the Senior Sergeant says.

The program involves the police working closely with the community to help implement programs and strategies to manage local crime.

Before joining the force in 1985, Standish was a dental technician. After his parents’ home was burgled he became fascinated with policing. “On the day of the robbery I was in awe of the display of responsibility,” he says. “I wanted to show the world I possessed those qualities too. I was moved by it and knew I was capable, so I made the shift.”

“My two sons were both very young at the time and I wanted a job that was secure and made a bigger difference to the community than cleaning plaque off teeth,” he laughs.

Endless late night crime fighting shifts patrolling the streets in the blue uniform coupled with weekends cheering on “the Roys”, the pleasures of life for Standish.

Juggling the challenges of police life, the responsibilities of being a proud father and facing a potential merger with the Brisbane Bears were his main concerns for some years.

A fresh-faced Standish knew he had to go that little bit extra to stand out from the crowd in order to rise through the ranks of the police force.

He completed a Bachelor of Police Studies at Monash University. “University gave me a higher level of understanding in the world, a deeper insight than what I knew before my degree,” he says.

Sitting at his desk one afternoon, sipping green tea out of a navy blue mug baring the golden Victoria Police emblem, the then Leading Senior Constable received a phone call that would topple him from his chair.

“After carelessly sitting for the sergeant’s exam, I received news informing me that I had been promoted. It hit me like a runaway train, never saw it coming.”

This unexpected promotion meant Standish was no longer on the frontline of the streets, but instead playing a crucial role behind the scenes connecting the police force with the community as the State Manager of The Victorian Neighbourhood watch program.

It was during this time he learnt, “the real way to manage crime”. “The goal should be to make zero arrests,” Standish says. “I don’t want crime to even be an opportunity in the minds of crooks.”

His approach to crime prevention strategies led him to work closely with those associated with the justice system.

Among them, Tim Smurthwaite has worked as a lawyer for 29 years. “Defending the indefensible,” he says, “rapists, drug dealers, violent offenders and everything else in between.”

People always assume lawyers and police officers work against each other during court proceedings. “But really we work together, navigating the wild world know we know as the justice system,” Mr Smurthwaite says.

“Lawyers make connections and relationships with criminals, therefore working together with the police we can really get into their ears and help repeat offenders turn their lives around,” he says.