For the past three weeks, Senior Constable Jason Barbe has found himself a long way away from home.
- Senior Constable Jason Barbe has gone from working the dog unit to manning a border checkpoint
- Over 500 officers rotate through the checkpoints every five days
- The NSW-Victorian border will reopen on November 23
His usual beat is with the police dog unit in Metropolitan Sydney, patrolling the streets along with his caninecompanion, three-year-old German shepherd, Arko.
“It’s completely different to my normal job,” Senior Constable Barbe said.
“Normally I’m out patrolling the Sydney metro area, looking for offenders that have taken off from police and are hiding.
“We get deployed to a variety of jobs like break and enters, stolen cars, or if anyone’s fled from a crime scene.”
In early July, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian closed the state’s border with Victoria in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the high number of cases the southern state was recording.
A call went out to officers across New South Wales to volunteer themselves for the mammoth task of policing checkpoints.
Adapting to country living
There are 27 checkpoints operating across state lines. Every five days, more than 500 new officers rotate through the checkpoints.
Senior Constable Barbe started his deployment in Delegate, a small town in the Snowy Monaro area with a population of about 350 people.
“It’s completely isolated, it was all farmland out there,” he said.
Not only was it an adjustment to remote country living, but officers on duty were met with snow.
“It was ice-cold in winter. That was different for police. We had to adapt to that and get new uniforms to keep warm,” Senior Constable Barbe said.
He was then deployed to Tocumwal before his final stint found him in Albury.
“Albury has been completely different again,” Senior Constable Barbe said.
“It’s extremely busy with a lot more cars coming through.”
At the peak of restrictions, there were around 25,000 traffic movements detected a day at the checkpoint set up in Albury Wodonga.
Commander of the Murray River Police District Superintendent Paul Smith said that increased to about 64,000 vehicles when restrictions placed on regional Victoria eased.
He said it had been a “mammoth task”, but they had achieved the NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller’sintent.
‘I wasn’t there for her third birthday’
Senior Constable Barbe said deployment had been tough.
“It’s been difficult trying to work out the best with family life and personal life,” he said.
Senior Constable Barbe left behind his wife and their two daughters, aged seven months and three.
“[Last week] my daughter turned three, so I wasn’t able to be there for her third birthday,” he said.
“It would have been extremely tough on my wife at the time.”
Arko, who is normally in Senior Constable Barbe’s care 24/7, was put in a kennel for the duration of the deployment, which Senior Constable Berbe said had also been difficult.
Large behind the scenes operation
Motorists see tents set up and roadblocks in place, but Superintendent Smith said a lot went on behind the scenes to keep an operation of such scale running smoothly.
“Once officers get to those locations there’s a lot more work around transport, accommodation and meals,” Superintendent Smith said.
“It’s a huge task.”
Behind the scenes, a team of people are working on traffic management. Superintendent Smith said contractors had also been employed to ensure things like heating and lighting were set up.
But, he said, that infrastructure would constantly change, depending on the needs on the ground.
“We’ve gone from the middle of winter into spring and now moving into summer,” he said.
Superintendent Smith said it was always difficult to recruit officers to the more remote areas.
“It’s because no one’s been there and no one knows what it’s like,” he said.
“I’m hoping that these guys that have come down from the south-coast right out to Wentworth get a bit of an appreciation of country life and country policing.”
Superintendent Smith said he was hopeful the border operation could assist with future recruitment.
“I think it’s a bit of an eye opener for some of them, that country experience,” he said.
“Hopefully, we may have recruited some staff when we have some vacancies on the border come up.”
Senior Constable Barbe said his experience along the border had been positive and he would consider a tree change.
“It’s not as busy as Sydney,” he said.
“It’s just beautiful, very relaxed compared and everyone’s extremely friendly out here and welcoming to police.”
But for now, he’s counting down the days until his final deployment in Albury ends and borders reopen so he can travel home to be reunited with his family.
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