Meet Jessica Booth. She joined the WA Police Force in January 1977 after spending three years in the Australian Defence Force as an Army Transport Driver and Driving Instructor.
“As a child my mother told me stories of life after WWII. She was also in the Australian Army and she said that a good friend tried to talk her into joining the police, something she often regretted not doing. This planted a career seed within me that activated after I left the military and the rest is history. It was a good choice.”
Jessica’s recruit course was the second in a row to have a number of women police participating. She remembers being treated well by the Academy staff and other recruits and believes that their efforts within training gained respect from those that were dubious about the role of women in the police force. “I came third in my course in self-defence and ninth overall so we scored well and were accepted easily.”
“My first posting was to the Women Police Office, located on the first floor of the old Central building, where we were mainly involved with women and child protection. The work was quite limiting. I just wanted to get out on the street like the guys and try to make a difference so was very thankful when women police were integrated into general duties some six months later.”
After the Women Police Office, Jessica was transferred to Central Police where she commenced foot and van patrols with the male officers. “The first day I went out to a van with my partner he didn’t know what to do and stopped at the passenger door to open it for me. I very nicely said that we were not on a date, we were partners and I would open and close my own doors. There was a look of relief on his face. But, what a gentleman! It did take a couple of days before the male officers got the hang of working with us.”
Jessica was transferred to Fremantle from Central Police and, within a couple of months, was asked by her shift sergeant to take on the role of ‘Number 1 and Station’ – a complex role which involved her being the initial response to all sudden deaths and fires.
Next, she was transferred to plain clothes with the Liquor and Gaming Branch. “I liked the freedom of being in plain clothes and getting to do more varied work in a place where everyone in the squad got on well, both professionally and socially.”
Whilst at Liquor and Gaming, Jessica was also a member of the first (part time/on call) Emergency Squad for a couple of years - being training in both bodyguard and anti-terrorist techniques. This included being trained by Qantas as an air hostess and being sized up for uniforms in case they had to replace air staff during a hostage situation. “Training was intense and real life and we always left each session with bruises. I got tear gassed so many times in a two day hostage training session that I thought I would never recover, but I really loved being part of that team.”
During Jessica’s second stint at Central Police, she fell pregnant with her daughter. She became the first Women Police Officer who stayed in the force after becoming pregnant where as previously they would have had to resign. “While I was pregnant, after having to use a restraint against someone trying to kick me in the stomach, I felt it was time to speak up and ask to come off the street. I approached my shift sergeant and asked him to take me of street patrols. He said, No, you are one of our best officers so you give me one good reason to take you off? I said ‘I’m pregnant’ and he nearly fell off his chair – this was definitely a new experience for him. I ended up working Central Front Desk along with another married and pregnant female officer before moving to complete the rest of my pregnancy filing at Internal Investigations and working at the old Staff Office until the birth.”
After returning to work, she spent two years at the Police Academy as an Instructor training new recruits and was also chosen to instruct the first Aboriginal Police Aid Course. “I told many of them that the first thing they should be doing after graduating was to apply to become a full time Police Officer. Several did in coming years and went on to have good careers, which I was proud of.”
“The absolute best part of policing is never knowing what the next five minutes will bring. It is a profession of varied experiences and I had the ability and opportunities to help as many people as I could through difficult situations. I wasn’t big on arresting people unless I had to – I preferred to use my expertise to resolve conflict situations and move on to the next job.
I believe women have been successfully integrated into all fields of policing. If a female officer does a good job, I believe there are no limits to what she can achieve. I miss the job – always have and always will.”
Jessica left the WA Police Force in March 1992 after 15 years of service. After working with the Child Support Agency for a number of years, she now manages two holiday rental units in Kalbarri.