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Fifteen young Aboriginal people embarked on an amazing journey when they entered the WA Police Academy as part of the inaugural Aboriginal Cadet Program.

Since that initial intake, a further 25 have entered the program with another squad of 17 beginning their two-year contract last month.

The program has been successful in increasing the representation of Aboriginal people in WA Police and it is being watched closely by other jurisdictions.

Probationer and Cadet Development Senior Field Officer Sergeant Steve Holmes said the program was the biggest single supplier of Aboriginal people into the workforce.

“We are increasing our percentage of representation by leaps and bounds against any other intake and all of the other police jurisdictions, and even New Zealand, are looking at what we are doing because we have had massive interest from the eastern states,” Sgt Holmes told Police News.

“Recently, Senior Sergeant Geoff Regan went to New Zealand to see how they do the Maori retention and intake and they are all interested in what we are doing in WA in terms of a cadet program, so all eyes are on us at the moment.”

The program has also gained further exposure and highlighted the positive benefits that it could have in bridging the gap between police and Aboriginal communities.

In April, Sgt Holmes and three Aboriginal police cadets made the trek up to Warburton to assist during the school holidays.

“Traditionally, youth crime spikes during school holidays so the Commissioner’s Office gave us the directive to take some cadets out there,” Sgt Holmes said.

“The idea of the trip was community engagement, we didn’t really know what to expect until we actually landed on the ground out there.”

The response and reaction for the community was unbelievable.

In the space of four days, the young cadets and local police officers were able to breakdown cultural barriers which have been up for years.

Sgt Holmes said the cadets were treated like celebrities as people flocked to catch a  glimpse.

“We were swamped literally from day one. We were getting flagged down by cars in the street, the community wanted to look at the cadets as they had never seen Aboriginal cadets before,” he said.

“The idea was to show to the Aboriginal people in the community that their young people can make something of themselves and there is a future for them if they try and stay away from offending.”

The events were organised by shire and community workers with the cadets going from event-to-event talking to young people.

Sgt Holmes said local police officers have never really managed to get anything community-wise off the ground, even though they have made a lot of attempts.

And it appears as though the new rock stars were the secret ingredient to success.

Previously, attempts were made to hold bush days to bring together the community and police officers however, there was no buy in from the community. This time was different.

“We had a bush day where we went out and they cooked up the kangaroo tails and the damper. We had a bus full of people, there were cars riding around wanting to know where we were so they could come join us so it was quite a big group,” Sgt Holmes said.

“They were telling us stories even me as a white police officer, a group of males called me over and wanted to sit me down and tell me stories. That just doesn’t happen in these
sorts of communities.”

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He said you could not take the credit away from the staff at Warburton, Brevet Senior Sergeant Ryan Devine and Brevet Sergeant Mitch Hawes.

“They really did work hard to make it work and make it happen. Having said that, the cadets were the catalyst, they wanted to come speak to them and that was the difference because they knew Aboriginal people were involved.

“We had different tribes of Aboriginals dealing with one guy out in the Goldfields but there was no animosity and they just took to them straight away and wouldn’t leave them alone.”

Sgt Holmes said the four-day visit had been a real eye opener for the cadets and was a great development opportunity.

“They loved it. The two girls actually said they want to go back and work out there.”

He said after the positive results in Warburton, there was an expectation that other communities will want to see the cadets in action.

“Two cops from Warakurna visited Warburton while we were there and they want us out there now and it won’t be long until Blackstone and all of those absolute border, remote towns will want some of the action.”

Sgt Holmes holds high hopes for the three cadets who went to Warburton. He expects Xavier Kickett to progress through to the recruitment process for police officers while Teleiah Ogilvie and Lakeisha Mongoowere still have a year to run in the program.

“The main goal of the program is to produce recruits, we’ve been successful with about nine so far,” Sgt Holmes said.

“But there are other entry pathways like PAO custody, PAO property as long as we end up with employment that’s a win for us because we are increasing the Aboriginal representation in the Agency.”

The two-year program sees Aboriginal cadets learn the basics of policing such as the systems and policies.

They also get the opportunity to go and work as a part of police stations where they are exposed to duties such as front counter, collection of CCTV and even patrolling with local officers.

“This is the time where we say are you the right person for us and they are thinking is this the right agency for me,” Sgt Holmes said.

“There are a number of things they need to achieve whilst they are a cadet. They do a cadet development portfolio, come here (to the Academy) every Thursday for PT and when I consider they are ready and hitting the mark for recruit standard, we put their file into recruiting and they go through the recruitment process.”

Sen. Sgt Regan is the man in charge of the program and Sgt Holmes said that as an Aboriginal man he has a great cultural influence over the cadets.

“He’s able to get into those cultural differences that I can’t so we kind of work together like that.”

Sgt Holmes said the program, like other recruit programs, experienced losses along the journey however, these were in line with the mainstreams.

“Out of a mainstream class of 25 or 30, we always lose three or four that just decide they want to grow their hair long and travel.

“We always have some that are happy to finish their cadet contract of two years and decide this isn’t for me right now so I will go away and come back later and it has been no different with these kids either.

“Out of the 25, we had about four go initially for various reasons and two wanted to go back to study which is a good result for us as well. If they want to go back to UWA, Curtin and all those sorts of places, game on, go and do some learning and then come back later.”

The first four Aboriginal cadets graduated as part of Blue and Gold Squads on May 25.

By Steven Glover