Uncategorized

NT Police officer Michael Potts reflects on 40-year career as he prepares for retirement


Michael Potts vividly remembers being smacked by the stifling heat when he stepped off the plane in Darwin in 1984.

But the bright-eyed Northern Territory Police recruit, who had answered an ad in the West Australian newspaper on a whim, decided to give this new life on the beat a go.

He donned the khaki uniform – as was the police attire at the time – and joined the ranks of the 600 or so other police officers, swearing to protect and serve across the NT’s vast 1.42 million square kilometre jurisdiction.

Michael Potts, third from the right in the second row, on graduation day. His last remaining squad mate is Assistant Commissioner Michael White (back row, far right).(Supplied: Michael Potts)

His career has taken him to the far-flung corners of the territory, investigating major crashes and coordinating search and rescue operations, among various other roles.

Now, the Alice Springs-based senior sergeant, affectionately known as “Pottsy” among his peers, is retiring from the force after four decades, having lived and worked through some of the most tumultuous yet pioneering years in NT Police history.

Missing persons a constant reminder

In a notebook beside him, Pottsy has written down a list of names in preparation for his ABC interview.

They are the names of people who went missing who he has never been able to find.

“That’s just a constant reminder for me that there are people that we’ve done a hell of a lot of searching for, a lot of hours, and we just never got across the line to bring them back home,” he said.

Behind a tough exterior and piercing blue eyes, he admits the work has taken a toll.

Pottsy served as a search and rescue operator for more than a decade.(ABC Alice Springs: Eliza Goetze)

Over the years, as a crash investigator he attended more than 320 serious or fatal crashes.

“There’s a lot of things you see in crashes that you probably should not see,” he said.

The trauma inflicted from these scenes can have a cumulative effect, with those impacted bearing the scars, sometimes for the rest of their lives.

The officer’s family has remained a beacon of support and strength throughout his career.(Supplied: Michael Potts)

When Pottsy first joined the ranks in the 1980s, little was known about post-traumatic stress and its insidious nature.

“Your brothers in khaki — or brothers in blue, as we call them now — would get together and they would rally around you and try and support you as best they could,” he said.

Great strides have been made towards better supporting members’ wellbeing, but too many current and former officers still keep their pain bottled up inside.

“I’ve spoken to members shortly before they’ve taken their own lives and you can sense that something is not quite right and they’re not their cheery old selves,” he said.

“And you say to them, ‘Look mate, if you want to have a chat or something, just —’ [and they say] ‘Yeah, we’ll catch up tomorrow’. And tomorrow never gets here.

“You just wish you would have done that little bit extra … and you have to carry that with you. And that’s something that never goes away from you.”

Disaster strikes at NT Cannonball Run

Of his more than 14,000 days in the job, May 24, 1994 is one etched permanently in his memory – the day he was assigned as the accident investigator for the disastrous NT Cannonball Run.

Attracting racing enthusiasts from across the globe, the stage was set for a supercar desert race along the Stuart Highway from Darwin to Uluru and back, with the fastest cars reaching eye-watering speeds in excess of 200 kilometres per hour.

Akihiro Kabe and Takeshi Okano stand beside Pottsy, just days before their tragic crash.(Supplied: Michael Potts)

Tragedy struck when Japanese Ferrari driving duo Akihiro Kabe and Takeshi Okano crashed into race officials Tim Linklater and Keith Pritchard, killing all four of them.

It is still considered the worst crash in Australian motorsport history.

“I can still remember having a photograph taken with Mr Kabe at the casino here in Alice Springs that morning,” Pottsy said.

He was understandably shaken arriving at the crash site later that day, just south of Alice Springs, to discover the carnage that had transpired.

Making matters worse, the event had garnered intense national and international media attention.

“That was a very, very taxing investigation, media-wise,” he said.

“I’ll always remember that [Mr Kabe’s] wife apologised to me for causing so much trouble. That was Japanese tradition.

“And I just felt so sorry for her … that was one thing that stood out to me.”

Pottsy inspects the NT Cannonball Run crash site where four lives were lost.(Supplied: Michael Potts)

Desert drug-smuggling operation goes awry

In temperatures oscillating between freezing and 45 degrees Celsius in the Northern Territory, the time frame to find and rescue a missing person while they are still alive can be small.

Despite his many successes as a search and rescue operator, there are some cases that still bring him undone.

In November 2019, three people – Claire Hockridge, Tamra McBeath-Riley and Phu Tran – were reported missing, after supposedly heading out for a camping trip outside Alice Springs and failing to return.

Tamra McBeath-Riley, Phu Tran and Claire Hockridge went missing in 2019.(Supplied: NT Police)

It would later be revealed in a report to the NT Coroner that the group had ventured into the bush in a drug-smuggling operation that went awry, with a two-week search effort turning up Tran and McBeath-Riley alive in the desert.

Hockridge, who had become separated from the group, was found dead.

But what hurt Pottsy about the ordeal was, despite being in possession of a lighter and bright surgical gloves, the group appeared to have actively avoided attracting the attention of the authorities searching for them.

Pottsy took this act of defiance to heart, and the tragic loss of life felt like a failure in his eyes.

“I personally struggled with it at the end,” he said.

“I had tears in my eyes because I just could not cope with why someone would do that — would think more probably about the drugs … hoping to get them out, than to get themselves out and save their own lives.”

Following in Pottsy’s footsteps

Reflecting on his 40 years with the Northern Territory force, Pottsy is proud of his achievements, particularly with advancements made in crash investigations.

He is proud of his work with Aboriginal communities across the territory, saying he had a lot to learn from their culture and traditions.

“Every copper has got their own reasons for joining. I wanted to make a difference to the community and devote my life to a career of policing,” he said.

Pottsy presented his son Darren with his police ID badge when he graduated in 2022.(Supplied: Michael Potts)

His dedication has rubbed off on those around him, including his family, with his son Darren recently graduating as a police officer.

As he takes long-service leave before officially retiring, Pottsy hopes for a quieter life, although he admits, “It’s probably going to take me a little bit of time to turn that switch off.”



Source link

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button