By Shane Scanlan
It’s hard not to be impressed by the man in charge of policing in the eastern half of the CBD – Inspector Craig Peel.
Youthful, fit and vigorous, Insp Peel has a sharp wit and a big smile, which fails to mask a keen brain and devotion to the task and his staff. At 45, he’s a man on the rise – having been promoted from senior sergeant to inspector in just five and a half years.
With due modesty he says of his meteoric rise through the ranks: “It’s not unique, but it doesn’t happen that often.”
Now, as local area commander based at Melbourne East Police Station in Flinders Lane, he is giving everything to preserving the safety and security of the CBD.
“I think the city’s looking fantastic. I don’t think the city’s ever looked better,” he said with typical positivity.
Despite one million people coming into his patch everyday and being responsible for some of the nation’s major events, he says policing in the city is no harder than being a sole officer at a high country police station.
“It’s not harder. It’s unique,” he said. “We operate under the same legislation. We’ve got the same rules. We wear the same uniform. It’s unique because of the amount of things going on here.”
He reels off some of the unique challenges he faces: AFL Grand Final. White Night. Moomba. Anzac Day. Unplanned demonstrations. Hostile vehicles. Counter terrorism. Expansion of food delivery vehicles. The sheer volume of people.
“We have 10,000 pedestrians an hour during peak at the (Flinders and) Swanston St and Elizabeth St intersections,” he said. “And history shows that there have been a number of targeted attacks that haven’t eventuated because of good policing.”
As an active representative on the city’s high-level committee looking into homelessness, Insp Peel says he’s proud of improvements that have been made.
“I think it’s changed in the last five years,” he said. “At that time you saw a lot of people sleeping in doorways – multiple amounts of people. You just don’t see that any more.”
“We work very closely with the City of Melbourne and their partners such as the Salvation Army. They’ve got their protocols and we support them.”
“Every Tuesday there’s a ‘hotspots’ meeting where the service providers come together and talk around different areas that may be causing issues – and it’s all about referrals. Referrals and finding pathways out of homelessness.”
So have they been successful?
“We have ‘positive results’, rather than ‘success’. Success would be no homeless,” he said. “The (police) members engage very well. They are very empathetic. They take the time. They’re very professional and very courteous.”
“The feedback from the service providers and the rough-sleepers is very positive. So, in terms of policing services in the CBD, I would call that a success.”
Insp Peel accumulated some years of life experience before joining the police as a 22-year-old.
The Bairnsdale boy had previously worked as a professional lifeguard and in hospitality. He also travelled abroad and worked at the snow.
“So I did a whole lot of different roles but, in essence, all of them were around customer service,” he said.
“That engagement and human interaction gave me a real desire to continue in a ‘human natured’ type of occupation.”
He graduated from the Police Academy in 1995 and spent his first years in Melbourne’s outer eastern suburbs before embarking on a 12-year stint in what was then the Force Response Unit (now the Critical Incident Response Team).
There he was a police negotiator and tactical operator and also performed “Close Personal Protection” for overseas dignitaries, including US presidents George Bush Snr and Bill Clinton, and worked with international secret service agencies.
But he said, while initially glamorous, that role, like any repetitive work, wore thin over time.
“I really enjoy the uniform aspects of policing because there’s something different every day,” he said.
Back in uniform, he returned to East Gippsland as a senior sergeant and quickly rose through the ranks, which necessitated a return to Melbourne – specifically the western suburbs. Now in the heart of the city, he’s loving the challenge as well as the hustle and bustle of the big smoke.
“As the inspector, I’m the one who has to continue to come up with strategies to make the best use of the limited resources that I have,” he said. “I’ve got what I’ve got. So, with my management team of senior sergeants, we have to come up with plans and then implement those plans to, say, reduce pedestrian injuries.”
“We’ve reduced unauthorised vehicles in Swanston St. We don’t have any of those anymore. We’re reducing crime and making it safer for people to come into the city. For me, that’s the exciting stuff.”
Insp Peel believes the city is a great place to live.
“I think it’s fantastic. I still do night shifts and walk around at 2 o’clock in the morning. The Friday and Saturday night hustle and bustle is great,” he said.
“I wouldn’t have a problem living in the CBD. I think it’s safe for families. It is a safe city. There is adequate staff. They know their business. I think it’s a really safe city.”