A dedicated group of Victoria Police officers have been officially commended for their work with people with disability by the State’s Office of the Public Advocate.
The awards recognise outstanding police service to people with disability through either improving outcomes or delivering a service that is inclusive and responsive.
The winner of the Ben Bodna Award for Leadership, Acting Senior Sergeant Melanie Castles-McKeown, says she was inspired to become involved in the Law Enforcement Torch Run supporting sports for people with disability by seeing how sport helped her sister, Alannah, (pictured with Snr Sgt Castles-McKeown, main photo), who has Down Syndrome.
“My sister was the conduit for getting involved but I have stayed because I can see the difference it makes to all the athletes,” Snr Sgt Castles-McKeown said.
“I have watched athletes going in shy and not wanting to be seen because they are used to hiding away, and when they are cheered and clapped, their heads come up and their shoulders go back.
“You do it for that moment. It’s like they are seen for the first time,” she said.
Sergeant Barry Randall won an award for Outstanding Service to People with Disability for founding and running Operation Soul Surf, a surf therapy program for current and former first responders and veterans, many of whom have severe post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Our surf program also caters for physical disabilities. One of our veterans was injured badly 12 months into his Army career and had been in a wheelchair for the previous six years,” said Sgt Randall.
“Eventually he was fitted with a battery pack that was wired through his spinal cord to his brain, providing pain relief and the ability to walk a little at a time. He joined our surf program and now we have him in the ocean, up and standing on a surfboard and catching waves on his own.”
The Victoria Police Soccer Club won an award for Outstanding Service to People with Disability for offering sporting opportunities to many groups of people with disability, including practice matches with Special Olympics participants.
“Victoria Police Soccer Club’s association with Doveton Special Soccer School began 19 years ago, when their coach, Carlos Loyola, requested a practice match. They won this inaugural match, and we are happy to say they have won every single annual game since,” said Senior Sergeant Ronald Sinclair, secretary of the Police Soccer Club.
“Each year, Victoria Police Soccer Club are now also involved with matches and social events with Frankston All-Abilities, All-Abilities Soccer Academy and Victorian Special Olympics squad.
“These are not only fun events, but also humanise police members, breaking down barriers for many people with a disability, who might have been fearful of police in the past.”
Frankston and Bairnsdale Police Stations each won awards for their commitment to the Independent Third Person (ITP) Program, where a volunteer attends a police interview to help a person with an intellectual disability to understand and take part in the process.
Frankston station called for an Independent Third Person 71 times last year, while Bairnsdale’s use of ITP volunteers rose 60%.