LEADING Senior Constable Janine Walker always wanted to be in the police force when she was a little girl in the Diamond Valley.
Mrs Walker loved to ride her ponies around her family’s farm, almost patrolling, checking fences to ensure all her animals were safely within the boundary of the property.
But it wasn’t until a careers expo in Year 11 that she discovered Victoria Police’s then height restrictions would have to steer her in another direction.
By the age of 34, Mrs Walker had experienced a successful career in the printing and graphic art industry, but the dream to be a police officer was rearing its head again.
Height, age and vision restrictions had been lifted by the force in the late 90s, and she was ready for a new challenge.
Completing two years of training, Mrs Walker then became Warracknabeal’s first female police officer and her community minded attitude grew.
Having experienced a reasonably sheltered life, it was that first role that exposed her to the realities of community machinations – including underprivileged children falling under the radar – and she began to understand how many people need help.
“No one realises what they’re taking on board when they become a police officer,” she said.
“Police are there to help and be approachable. If people need help, who do they ring? The police.”
But she said gaining a real sense of personal trust within communities is another story.
“It’s not all about prosecuting,” she said. To her, it’s about taking an interest and offering to chat to people to let them know they are not alone.
“A police woman stopping to chat is foreign to a lot of people. If you’re consistent, people catch on.
“It’s about really listening to find what’s at the core of the issue.”
Catch on they did, and one of the results is Mrs Walker recent recognition by Ballarat’s Zonta Club for her work improving the town’s community safety over the last 12 years.
She’s made the honour roll of Ballarat’s Great Women for 2019, having been nominated by her peers – Divisional Superintendent Jenny Wilson and Inspector Trevor Cornwill – as a congratulations and thank you.
Joining the police force and meeting citizens day-to-day has helped Mrs Walker understand the spectrum of mental health, elderly abuse, neglect and isolation.
She is being praised for her approach, going the extra mile within her work to impact people experiencing these things, rather than having a clock on, clock off mentality.
Having moved to Ballarat in 2005, community safety became her focus. Mrs Walker’s caring, proactive presence has been felt and appreciated ever since.
She’s been a passionate voice in the city, with an aim to engage an extensive range of local people – specifically senior citizens – and get them building supportive networks.
Mrs Walker’s been so successful generating a rapport and profile within the Ballarat community that, for many older people with no one else to turn to, she has become the person to call.
“Some of them are so embarrassed, they don’t know what to do,” she said. “Integrity in this town is everything.
“They feel it’s safe enough to contact me and at least I can be an ear for them and provide solutions.The elderly aren’t dumb. If you lead by example and walk the walk, word gets around.”
Professionally, her campaigning has included a revamp of Neighbourhood Watch and a Community Support Register, which both aim to generate networking.
In her opinion, there should always be so much more to it than a newsletter.
She advises people to get out in their areas during ‘Neighbour Day’ and beyond, to meet their neighbours, know their situation and have a civil respect for one another.
This means, ideally, no one should be left alone or forgotten in the event something out of the ordinary occurs. Crime rates are also seen to drop in close-knit areas.
She has also organised workshops with police to better connect with the dementia community.
This educated officers and strengthened their understanding of how to empathise with people living with dementia and identify the characteristics. It also encouraged them to start conversations.
Drawing on her previous career in advertising, the Wish I Locked It and Warrant Wednesday campaigns also generated a big response across multiple media platforms.
As people were reminded to lock their doors via Wish I Locked It, a drop in thefts was recorded.
Warrant Wednesday – reminding people via social media of their outstanding fines, left some people red faced, but it was proactive nonetheless.
“It’s about thinking of creative ways to capture the community,” Mrs Walker said.
Having been nominated for the Zonta award, she certainly has captured the attention of locals, but she said it’s something she was “not expecting.
“To be put on that level with all the other women is an honour. It’s nice to be thought of and appreciated.”
Knowing she’ll need people to reach out to as she grows older, she “treats people how [she] wants to be treated.
“In a world where you can be anything at all, why not just be kind?”