‘How could one person be capable of so much evil?’
Police on the night shift have seen it all and constables Liv Smith and Pete Carroll are no exception. From horrific child abuse to plugging gaping neck wounds with their own fingers, these cops open up on what life is like on the front lines.
When the sun goes down the real crooks come out.
This is the reality for Queensland Police Constables Peter Carroll and Liv Smith, who work the beat in Brisbane after dark.
In rare and candid interviews, the two have opened up to the Sunday Mail to give raw and real accounts of what life on the front line is really like.
Different paths led these two officers to joining the service and despite the heartache, both can't imagine doing anything else.
Constable Carroll trained and worked as a plumber for several years after leaving school before a conversation with his wife led him to the police academy. While for Constable Smith it was some sage advice from a former high school teacher that led her to switch from studying to be a lawyer to proudly donning the blue uniform.
Both are now colleagues stationed at Cleveland in Brisbane and both work the night shift.
"I've always been interested in policing," Const Carroll, 36, told The Night Watch.
"I think since I was a little fella. I grew up in a rough part of town and it was either you became a criminal or crook or you become a police officer.
"A lot of the guys I was in school with were always getting themselves into trouble, you could see back then they weren't going too far in their lives and that gave me a bit more purpose in my life to try and do better and move forward," he said.
"I got to the point where it's like 'well, I'm getting a bit too old and to let it go any longer, I better pull the pin and do something about it."
LISTEN: QLD Police Constables Liv Smith and Pete Carroll recall for The Night Watch their frontline experiences dealing with suicide and other "horrific jobs" that young officers are face.
When he first joined the academy he and his wife had a two-month-old son "so it was a pretty hard time being at the academy, trying to learn a whole new career and have a two-month-old at home crying and screaming … but it was worthwhile.''
Working the night shift has provided Const Carroll with both extreme highs and lows.
"The moment that the sun goes down is when the real crooks come out," he said.
"You get to actually go out looking for the real bad guys that are breaking into homes and stealing people's things."
But one unspeakable act of depravity against a little girl almost sent him over the edge and out of the service.
The three-year-old was allegedly tortured and sexually assaulted in her own home at Capalaba, while her mother was at work.
A man pleaded guilty to four charges including torture (domestic violence offence) and rape (domestic violence offence). He was sentenced to 29 years and two months in jail.
"It pretty much happened two houses down from my father … and the poor girl's injuries were quite substantial.
"And when we attended the hospital to start the initial investigation, the hospital staff were also … you could see the panic in their faces they were struggling to help this child out.
"We didn't quite think this young lady would make it due to her significant injuries and I just remember at the time thinking 'how could one person be capable of so much evil against someone so innocent who's never done anything to anyone'.
"As a police officer, you just see this evil and you think 'how do we stop that?
"I didn't cope very well with it.
"I was very angry, I was angry at him. I was angry at anyone who let it happen. I was angry at myself, even though I had nothing to do with it initially, that we couldn't protect his young lady. But again, we don't even know it's happening. But you feel guilty for allowing this to happen."
The assault came in the same week Const Carroll investigated a suicide and another sexual assault.
"So it was quite a few big jobs building up that week. I got to the point where I just wasn't coping … I just broke down and cried and I didn't know why. Couldn't figure it out.
"I came in on my day off to do work and the paperwork and one of the really good sergeants here spotted that I wasn't my usual chipper self and pulled me aside … that's when the tidal wave came and I couldn't hold it in anymore.
"I felt strange in the fact that here I am at work crying in front of all my colleagues, but every one of them realised I was just hurting, so it was good that everyone came to my aid straight away.
"It was a catalyst to seeking help to put my hand up and saying 'all right, I'm not compressing all this very well and I do need a break away from policing for a minute'. I thought maybe my career was over. I thought maybe I can't do this anymore. But I just realised everyone needs help from time to time. And I needed it to speak to a person who knew how to solve these problems, like basically a police officer for me."
He found several support networks - his wife, a colleague who worked as a detective and a psychologist who reassured him he just needed to "compress what's happened".
"I also had to have faith in everyone I work with and the police service too. Understand that I'm not broken …
"And I came back stronger and more keen to carry the torch for policing".
The offender was sentenced to 17 years in jail - one of the longest sentences to a sexual assault offender.
For Constable Liv Smith, it was lunch with her former high school legal studies teacher that convinced her to give policing a go. Const Smith had been studying law at university but soon realised it wasn't the right path for her.
After graduating from the police academy she was based out west at Charleville in regional Queensland before transferring to the city station in Cleveland.
She had a baptism of fire while on night shift not long after joining when she was called to a stabbing.
Hopping out of the van, Const Smith saw a man lying on the ground with a gaping neck wound and his girlfriend was in hysterics.
With no time to lose, she decided to plug the wound with her finger before paramedics arrived.
"I had never seen a stab wound to the neck before, I'd never seen something bleed so much," she told The Night Watch.
"I think I was just using my thumb to shove more and more gauze in there because I just didn't want any more blood to come out, I didn't even know if I did it properly to be honest, but he lived.
"You're going 'this is ridiculous, I've seen this in movies and now I'm doing it'."
The stabbed man grabbed Const Smith's hand to thank her as paramedics put him in an ambulance.
"He sort of started to realise that this could be it for him so he said to me 'tell my girlfriend I love her, tell my parents that I love them', and I think I even slapped him in the face saying 'stop that'."
Const Smith also said attending jobs where people have self-harmed has left a toll on her.
"I don't really think civilians realise that we get called to attempted suicide jobs - I think most people associate that with ambulances," she said.
"But in reality, it's the majority of the jobs we're going to these days, we get a lot of people either saying they want to kill themselves or saying they have suicidal tendencies or actually doing it."
One case in particular that stays with Const Smith was that of an elderly woman who had made her way to a river bed and had been "just sitting there for two days waiting for the elements to kill her because she couldn't go through the actual act of killing herself".
"So she was just waiting to die," Const Smith said.
"And then she said, 'ah you know, I woke up and there was a beautiful sunrise this morning. And then I saw the police helicopter and then I saw the police boat. And I thought, maybe I don't want to die today. So I thought I'd wave out to them and get their attention."
Const Smith has been based at the Cleveland station for almost a year now - and hopes to be there for many more to come.
"It's good having a good crew at night because … that's when it gets busy, it's when it gets dangerous. And you need to know that people have your backs."
Originally published as 'How could one person be capable of so much evil?'