Sitting next to me on an aircraft during a flight in 2014 was one of several Australian Federal Police (AFP) officers on their way to Amsterdam. As we chatted, a young woman revealed that she was excited about where she was going but pensive about the task she was about to perform.
It was shortly after Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 had been shot out of the sky above Ukraine. Dozens of her AFP colleagues were on the ground in the war-stricken nation, assisting with the investigation. Human remains were being transferred to Amsterdam, and the woman next to me was a forensic expert who would help with their identification.
Eight months later I’m in Canberra, sitting opposite assistant commissioner Shane Connelly, who at the age of 54 is an enormously experienced police veteran and national manager of HR for the 6570-strong AFP. He’s explaining how policing has changed in recent decades.
There used to be clearly delineated borders and jurisdictions in policing, he says. Law enforcement was about looking inwards, managing local issues and ensuring criminals didn’t prosper in your territory. These days it’s as international as it is local. There are no borders.
“I think the public understands this,” says Connelly. “There is nobody who hasn’t received a phone call or email from somebody trying to scam them. Some criminals are now operating via the internet, thousands of miles away.”
Connelly, who joined the police in 1984, has served in roles including traffic operations, the diving squad, the fraud squad and the drug squad. He was in Cambodia as part of a United Nations peacekeeping mission. He’s headed an organised crime team, witness protection and close personal protection teams. He’s been the ACT’s deputy chief of police, manager of the AFP’s International Deployment Group, and plenty more.
Modern policing, he says, is very much a partnership with the public. Old-school law enforcement was about policing the public. Now it’s about policing with the public.
So what HR challenges does this toss up?
“In the 1980s we were looking for very fit, strong, big men and women,” says Connelly (who still fits the description despite his desk job). “What we’re looking for now is fit, strong, educated, intellectual, skilled people from a range of paths in life.
“We want younger people, mature people, educated people. We want practical thinkers. We like people from a non-English-speaking background and people who are culturally diverse. We’re very keen on people who are Aboriginal or from the Torres Strait Islands. “Our desire is to build a policing agency that is reflective of Australia.”
The need for such diversity challenges the old idea of police coming from police families – sons joining up because their father served. Generational policing may bring great values, but not necessarily diversity of mind or skills.
Attracting the right types of people to the AFP is just one of the challenges for its HR people. Others include education and training, enforcing professional standards, and workplace health and safety – even if the workplace is a war zone.
Connelly splits his HR team of about 450 into four functions:
- HR services: traditional HR functions including recruitment, diversity, graduate programs, workforce planning and day-to-day running of HR.
- Wellbeing and health services: recognition of good performance, health and psychology services, work, health and safety specialists, etc.
- Professional standards: the AFP’s integrity unit, educating staff on acceptable behaviour and professional standards, and dealing with those who don’t meet the standards.
- Learning and development: includes training and further education of everybody on staff.
Connelly says the AFP has nearly 500 people “offshore” at any particular time. As well as the Ukraine incident, AFP staff were in Bali after the bombings; in Samoa after the tsunami; in Christchurch, New Zealand, after the earthquake; and more recently, in Vanuatu after Cyclone Pam.
How does an HR department keep people safe in such situations?
“We’re kept very busy trying to prevent our people from getting hurt,” he says. “There might be diseases and several other risks we have to worry about. We do a lot of planning, health briefings and inoculations. We have to build OH&S mechanisms.
“We deploy with a lot of equipment, and we don’t get much notice, so we always have to be ready.”
This article is an edited version. The full article was first published in the June 2015 issue of HRMonthly magazine as ‘Force Majeure’. AHRI members receive HRMonthly 11 times per year as part of their membership. Find out more about AHRI membership here.