New WA police commissioner leaves ‘a lasting legacy’ in Canberra

By Stephen Easton

Thursday August 3, 2017

After a few years leading the newly formed Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, Western Australian cop Chris Dawson is heading home to lead the state’s police force under a new government that is focused on squeezing big savings from the public sector.

Dawson was a WA police officer for about 38 years, across both regional and metropolitan areas, and spent 10 as deputy commissioner in charge of responses to terrorism and serious organised crime. He was the inaugural principal of the state’s police academy at Joondalup in Perth’s northern suburbs, and was responsible for the state police force’s biggest ever security operation, around the 2011 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.

“Police alone cannot prevent crime and harm, so jointly building and maintaining trust with the community and alliances with our partner agencies will be central to my approach as commissioner of police,” Dawson said in a press conference this week.

Moving to common systems

Speaking of partner agencies, the WA Department of Fire and Emergency Services has just finalised a $7 million deal with Motorola to buy the same computer-aided dispatch system that has been used by the police for the past couple of years.

The systems combine “critical information between agency databases, command centres and frontline officers working in the field” and all emergency services using the same one will improve collaboration during major emergencies like bushfires, according to the vendor.

Dawson will also lead a police force that has invested seriously in evidence-based policing, driven mainly by the interest of deputy commissioner Stephen Brown, who explained the value of the approach to The Mandarin last year.

More recently he was hand-picked by the federal Minister for Justice to lead the ACIC, which was established in 2014 when the former Australian Crime Commission effectively absorbed CrimTrac, the group that facilitates information sharing to support cross-border policing.

More controversially, the ACIC also absorbed the Australian Institute of Criminology despite almost no support from academics in the field and a whole lot of opposition, which made Dawson its interim director in 2015.

‘Sorely missed’ in Canberra

“I personally head-hunted Mr Dawson to spearhead the merger of the Australian Crime Commission and CrimTrac to establish the ACIC − marking a significant and historic milestone in Australia’s response to crime,” Justice Minister Michael Keenan in a statement congratulating WA’s new commissioner, whose five-year term starts on August 16.

Keenan, a fellow West Australian, said Dawson would be “sorely missed” by federal government.

“Together with Australia’s law enforcement agencies, the ACIC has been instrumental in the seizure of more than $890 million in drugs and $11.2 million in cash, and identifying 118 previously unknown money laundering targets, since it was established last year,” he added.

“This vision to enrich Australia’s critical intelligence function will be a lasting legacy for Mr Dawson. “He will bring a considerable range and depth of experience to the Western Australia Police.”

In announcing the appointment, Premier Mark McGowan said the new government wanted to sharpen police response times, and reduce the use of methamphetamine.

“Methamphetamine continues to wreak havoc in our community and we will work together with Mr Dawson to implement our Meth Action Plan, along with our 100-strong Meth Border Force, to interrupt the supply of meth into WA,” he said in the statement.

Police minister Michelle Roberts said it was Dawson’s experience in policing organised crime and potential terrorism that made him the best person for the job and noted he had been “at the forefront of the fight against the scourge of meth nationally” as CEO of the ACIC.

“Mr Dawson is highly respected within WA and national policing circles,” Roberts added. “The state government’s vision for better policing means putting the community first and I know Mr Dawson shares that philosophy.”

The current commissioner Karl O’Callaghan is retiring after 13 years at the top and has candidly spoken about the highs and lows of the job, from catching a serial killer to seeing the impact of the meth boom firsthand, when his own son was badly injured in a drug lab explosion and arrested in 2011.

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