REWARDING CAREER: Senior Sergeant Greg Smith is retiring from the police force after 35 years of service.
REWARDING CAREER: Senior Sergeant Greg Smith is retiring from the police force after 35 years of service. Rob Williams

Senior Sergeant signs off after 35 years

THE PEOPLE of Ipswich should be glad that retiring Senior Sergeant Greg Smith gave up selling paint 35 years ago to join the force.

We've had a good 'un in our midst for the past 24 years in the Ipswich Police District. The 56-year-old crime manager is going to be missed.

Snr Sgt Smith, who served his last day at Yamanto station yesterday, was 21 and selling paint in a department store in Grafton when a surfing mate he went to school with planted the seed of joining the force in his mind.

"He turned up one day and said, 'You are wasting your time selling paint. Come up to Brisbane'," Snr Sgt Smith recalls.

"So I went and did the physical and the interviews…and ended up here."

He was pleased to hear the police academy at the time "wanted people with life experiences who could talk to people".

He spent six and a half months in the police academy where Sgt Tom Molloy, an Irishman with a strong accent and an even stronger personality, left a lifelong impression.

"In this day and age he would not be politically correct," Snr Sgt Smith grins.

"If you did all the wrong things he would call you all the names under the sun.

"If your hair was too long, you were either a poofter or a poet. And his comment would be, 'And I haven't heard any of your poems lately'.

"But he was a star. He ran the place. He sorted people out.

"He knew if someone was going to be no good as an officer. He could pick them."

Snr Sgt Smith's first post was Fortitude Valley in 1980.

His first arrest was a drunk.

"And I was shaking like anything…because you were there by yourself," he says.

"To be honest, I was trying to decide whether to give him a ticket for a don't walk sign or arrest him for (being) drunk."

He went with the latter, and probably did the man a favour.

"It gave him somewhere to sleep.

"A lot of the drunks then were homeless and had nowhere to sleep. So you often arrested them so they had a night in the watch house."

We asked the now wily veteran: What makes a good police officer?

It is an old question, but he says the answer is as relevant now as it was when he joined the force.

"Summing up people, being able to talk to them and empathise with them," he replies.

"We are here to help the public. And to help them, you have to be able to talk to them.

"You have to know how they think."

In his career Snr Sgt Smith says he had one stand up fight and a dozen wrestles with people.

"By talking to them the right way, you could defuse anything," he insists.

He came to Ipswich Police District in 1991 where he spent a decade in police communications after 10 years at Red Hill.

He has worked in just about every country station in the district.

Ask him which cases stand out and his response shows a man with empathy for people.

"It was a big thing to me," he says, the emotion obvious.

"I was in comms and an elderly gentleman rang me.

"He said to me…and it still gets me too… something along the lines of, 'I've just found my wife'.

"She went out gardening, and she had died.

"I'd taken hundreds of thousands of calls in there…but that still affects me. I don't know why.

"I had a girl on the phone one night for 90 minutes. She had taken an overdose and she rang and said she was near a bowls club.

"So I had cars driving around to different clubs with their sirens going. Finally I could hear the sirens on the phone….and she was fine."

Snr Sgt Smith enjoys training young staff. He has been a stickler for the correct processes being followed.

"The communications co-ordinator has got to make sure the jobs are done right, so in there I was dealing with the young staff making sure they were doing the right thing," he says.

"As the crime manager, it is a similar thing.

"If one matter is not investigated right, the offender can get off."

As for retirement, he insists he is "not going on a river cruise through Europe or a cruise up to the Alaskan icefields because all the retired people do that."

A holiday around Australia, by plane and in the best motels, beckons.

"Then when things settle down it will be helping out with things like the RSPCA and Meals on Wheels," he says.

The QT was surprised he didn't say he was off on a fishing expedition.

"I'm going fishing on Tuesday," he grins.

"In a way (retirement) is a bit of the unknown. I may love it and I may hate it.

"Who knows? I could be back.

"After three months the wife might say, 'I've had enough of you. You've got to go back to work'."

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