HomePeopleCracking the code to a life in the force

Cracking the code to a life in the force

The idea of joining the police force came to Anne Woolford in her mid-20s following a party conversation.

When retired detective and Strathalbyn woman Anne Woolford reflects on her 30 year career in the police force she realises much has changed since her days in the blue and white.

In the early days of her career, which began in the 1960s, Anne was often the only female officer on the beat, but despite the gender imbalance she thrived in the job and went on to become SA’s first female detective.

“The women police in those days were totally separate from the men,” she says.

“When I went to Fort Largs (police academy in Taperoo) to do a 17 week training course, there were 28 men and only two women.

“It was standard for that time, they didn’t have a lot of women police.

“It was a challenge, but I enjoyed that actually.”

Before 1979, female officers were recruited to a separate police branch, helping to address issues related to women’s safety, security and wellbeing as well as providing support and assistance to women who were victims of crime.

In those days, female police officers wore plain clothes and received different training to their male counterparts.

Anne says she would often accompany her male colleagues to incidents “almost as an escort” and often took women to medical examinations after rapes and sexual assaults to ensure they were looked after.

“I had to do things like taking statements from women about sexual crimes and rapes and even indecent exposures, that sort of thing,” she says.

“You learn on the job how to talk to women.

“It was a real learning experience.

“To my way of thinking, back then even married women were fairly naïve, but that was the way everyone was back then.

“I had the advantage of being educated with what I was doing, but many of the women I came into contact with were lovely people but not necessarily aware of some of the things that could happen to them.”

Anne was drawn to the world of policing in her mid-20s after striking a conversation with her parents’ neighbours at a birthday party.

The neighbours were both police officers and asked Anne if she was interested in joining the force.

Two weeks later she signed up.

People are human and they need to be treated with compassion

Little did she know at the time that conversation would spark a career spanning three decades.

It was also how she would later meet her late husband Colin, who was a detective.

She graduated from the Police Academy in 1967, working in Adelaide, then Elizabeth and later Mt Gambier, where she was the only female police officer in the region.

In 1971 Anne moved to Whyalla where she continued to be a support for women affected by crimes and tragic events such as suicides and road fatalities.

Part of her job involved accompanying male police officers to carry out dreaded ‘death knocks’ which involved visiting a family’s home to tell them they had lost a loved one.

“This one time, we went to a house to tell a woman that her truck driver husband had died in a road traffic accident,” Anne says.

“We knocked on the door.

“The guy with me was in uniform and I was in plain clothes and the woman looked at us and said, ‘he’s dead, isn’t he?’

“She’d obviously, all her life, worried about the fact that it might happen and in this particular case it did.”

Anne believes a combination of natural resilience and training allowed her to deal with challenging and stressful situations.

“It was tough … but I didn’t allow it to get me down,” she says.

“It was part of what you did as a police officer, and I just went on and did it.”

After her regional stints, Anne moved back to Adelaide working in the Criminal Investigations Branch investigating complaints against land agents.

From 1973, the same year women first went into uniform, she spent time in the homicide and rape squads before becoming the State’s first female detective in 1976.

The latter part of her policing career was spent in crime prevention, including the Neighbourhood Watch program, designed to encourage communities to work together to prevent crime and promote safety in their hometowns and suburbs. Anne travelled across the State to give lectures and talks on public safety and security, encouraging people to lock up their homes and report suspicious activity to the police.

Her final promotion came in 1989 when she became the sergeant in charge of the Crime Prevention Unit.

By the mid-90s it was time for Anne to hang up her boots and head into retirement, but the end of her policing career didn’t spark the end of work.

After moving to Belvedere with husband Colin, she continued to serve the community for more than a decade as a local councillor in Strathalbyn.

One of her first missions was to improve road safety in the town with the installation of more roadside footpaths and bridges over rivers and creeks.

Both her policing career and time spent in local government has taught her one thing – people must always be treated with kindness.

“People are human and they need to be treated with compassion,” she says.

“That was me, that’s the way I treated them all.”

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