Garth Peake’s passion for road policing was sparked as a 19-year-old, straight out of the academy, and it remains a driving force almost 40 years later as he hands the radar gun to the next generation.
The Highway Patrol Deception Bay Officer in Charge is retiring on February 10 after four decades in the job including 25 years in the Moreton District – initially Redcliffe and then a combined Caboolture-Redcliffe traffic branch.
During that time, he has adapted to numerous Queensland Police Service restructures, unit name changes and evolving technology but the aim has remained the same – to reduce the number of traffic crashes and save lives.
It all started in 1982, when the then law clerk decided he wanted to be a solicitor but was told his tertiary entrance score was five points too low and he would need to return to school to improve his grade.
“So, I promptly went around to police headquarters and started on the 17th of January, 1983,” Senior Sergeant Peake recalls.
After graduating from the police academy, he had a short stint in the Brisbane city traffic branch before moving to Mackay (eight years), then Gympie (6-7 years) and finally Redcliffe and Deception Bay in 1996.
“I really liked what I did. I could see us making a difference in this area,” he says.
“Anything and everything happens in traffic. I’ve been very fortunate in attending all sorts of jobs from murders down – not having to investigate them of course, that’s where the experts come in – but I have certainly been in the thick of it and that’s what’s been probably the most enjoyable part.
“Often times, you’re the first one there because we’re out in the car and driving around and the call comes through ‘any unit, any unit’ and that’s when the traffic branch usually gets there first.”
Key to his role has been building strong relationships with stakeholders in the community.
“That’s invaluable, in my mind,” he says. “We’ve got a pretty good network and it works well in this area and has for a long time. There’s a lot of mutual respect between council and the station. We don’t involve ourselves in politics, it’s just about getting things done and there’s some pretty good people out there if you just ask nicely.
“It’s a bonus for this area because we can get things done properly and quickly.”
The job has also given the Burpengary East resident once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to be part of international events including the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in 2002 and the G20 in Brisbane in 2014.
“Those things just put a firecracker under you because you’ve really got to start thinking differently,” Sen-Sgt Peake says.
“I had the privilege of looking after Prime Minister Tony Abbott during G20 as the lead car going into everything. We parked next to Barrack Obama and Putin on the other side – that’s how close to the middle of it I was.
“That was just amazing. It was just the luck of the draw. I thought I’d won the Lotto that day.
“Even the Commonwealth Games, as much of a schmozzle that was (expected to be), the police really pulled that together. The road policing command had a lot to do with the co-ordination of traffic and all the movement and we had some really good experts in amongst that team and it came together and worked really well.”
Sen-Sgt Peake says while the majority of people tried to do the right thing, speeding, drug and drink driving, juveniles stealing cars and distraction caused by mobile phones were the biggest road safety issues.
“It’s like the other day (someone doing) 172km/h on our highway. That’s happening every day and those are the ones we want to stop. Some people don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, ‘the car can go that fast and I’m a good driver’,” he says.
“It’s an attitudinal thing. I’ve been spruiking those lines for years but it’s not changing.”
Sen-Sgt Peake says all drivers needed to take responsibility for their actions and a rise in ‘the age of entitlement’ spurred on by social media was not helpful.
“Don’t try to find excuses. When people accept responsibility, it makes things so much easier,” he says.
So, why has road policing held his interest for so long?
“It’s just a passion for trying to get it right and change things and I’m a very keen fisherman,” he says laughing.
“When you’ve got a radar gun in your hand … it’s a little bit like fishing sometimes waiting for that big bite.”
Senior Sergeant Peake will enjoy morning tea with colleagues at Deception Bay station on his last day and, in line with tradition, a piper will play as he leaves the building.
Senior Sergeant Brett Stevenson has been announced as his replacement.