WHEN he was 19, one of Wayne Starling’s best mates bet him he wouldn’t last a week as a police officer – he was too soft.
On Australia Day, after 34 years in the police force he loves, Superintendent Starling was awarded the Australian Police Medal. He thinks it’s about time he collected on the wager.
With characteristic humility, the Lake Illawarra Local Area Commander has dedicated the honour to his family and fellow officers.
‘‘I have only ever wanted to be a policeman - for as long as I can remember, so I am humbled and appreciative of the recognition,’’ Superintendent Starling said. ‘‘More importantly however, it recognises the sacrifices that my wife and family have made and it also acknowledges the support of my colleagues.’’
When pressed on the award being recognition of a difficult job well done, Superintendent Starling disputed policing as difficult.
‘‘I don’t think of it as a hard job,’’ he said. ‘‘There’s only about 5 per cent of the community that you worry about. Ninety-five per cent of the community are just like me and all they want is the support of the police.’’
In part, Superintendent Starling was awarded the Medal for his grassroots policing and work with indigenous communities.
Among his career highlights he also counted working on Strikeforce Snowy, which primarily targeted notorious killer Neddy Smith and locking away child sex offenders.
‘‘While you can’t save those children, you can put people away and save other children,’’ he said.
While his role as commander has taken him away from frontline policing, Superintendent Starling said he was now responsible for the welfare of those on that frontline - a new generation he described as sensitive, articulate, intelligent and committed.
‘‘My role has changed over the years,’’ he said. ‘‘These days it’s just about keeping my people safe. I have a good day if I go home safe and my people go home safe - both physically and psychologically. As police we see things that people just shouldn’t see. I remain grounded, thanks to the support of my family, but my role is to look after police who haven’t seen that before - to teach them to be resilient.’’
Superintendent Starling said as well as professional satisfaction, the police force had given him a second family and introduced him to his wife, Kylie, a fellow police officer.
Inspired by his brother-in-law police officer, Superintendent Starling joined as a trainee in 1979 at the NSW Police Academy, Redfern and was confirmed as a constable in 1980 at Darlinghurst.
‘‘I wanted to be a policeman because I realised through my brother-in-law, who was a policeman, that police do make a difference. The job satisfaction is remarkable,’’ he said.
He served in the special gaming squad and performed general duties at Mount Druitt, before entering the criminal investigation field serving at Mt Druitt Parramatta, internal affairs, Penrith and the North West Major Crime Squad.
In 1996 Superintendent Starling went to Port Macquarie detectives and started his career in country policing.
In 2000 he was promoted to inspector at Shoalhaven Local Area Command. He relieved as commander at Far South Coast Local Area Commander and in 2007 was promoted to the rank of Superintendent as the Commander at the Barwon Local Area Command.
He then returned to the Shoalhaven as Commander before taking up his current role in 2011
In detailing Superintendent Starling’s citation, the Australia Day Honours list notes state he had ‘‘demonstrated a genuine and compassionate commitment to improving the quality of life for disadvantaged indigenous communities in several areas of New South Wales, and enhancing relationships between the police and these communities. ‘‘Grassroots engagement has been a consistent approach and detective superintendent Starling has been a trailblazer in many of his initiatives. His fine policing has not been limited to the indigenous people however, and he has been a strong advocate for his staff and has worked tirelessly for the whole community.’’
Superintendent Starling’s Australian Police Medal is one of 34 awarded around the country.
In 2012 he was named Leader of the Year in the Commissioner’s Customer Service Excellence and he received the Centenary Medal in 2001.