Was it Customary Discretion?
Customary discretion in policing is a vague term with an appropriately vague definition. Blacks’ Law Dictionary defines it as “… decision-making power afforded to police officers that allows them to decide if they want to pursue police procedure or simply let someone off with a warning”.
This event took place in a town in the north of Western Australia. Now whether it’s truly customary discretion or is outside the definition, I don’t know and I don’t really care, but for that reason, I haven’t named the town. But I still love the story and the underlying message about trying to help people to help themselves. Bless the hearts of those involved.
Gavin was nineteen years old. He lived about 20 kilometres east of a Kimberley town in a small Aboriginal community, about five kilometres off Highway One. Like many young Aboriginal boys, he could drive a car. He’d learned to do it from the age of about six in stock camps and out in the bush around the community.
And it was good that he could, because his mum had diabetes and was on dialysis three days a week. So each time she had to get to the local hospital for her treatment, Gavin would drive her in, following a track known as Highway Two, which ran beside the bitumen highway and then skirt the town to the back of the hospital, keeping off gazetted roads.
The police officers in the town tended to turn a blind eye to Highway Two as long as the drivers never went on the bitumen, crossed roads in town or tried to drive after drinking. Even so, the Sergeant of Police was a tough old bugger and tended to keep a very close watch on what was happening.
Gavin had to drive Highway Two because he didn’t have a licence and had virtually no chance of getting one. His school attendance had been poor and his literacy levels in English were almost non-existent. He had no chance of understanding, let alone answering, any questions on the licence test . Even so, he was known as an excellent driver and he didn’t drink alcohol at all
One day, around lunchtime, his mum happened to get really crook. He knew he had to get her town and hospital very quickly, so he loaded her in the old Troopie and got moving.
After five kilometres, he was travelling beside the bitumen highway. Knowing he still had 15 kilometres to go and the track was gut-rough and slowing him down, he thought, “bugger it, got to get there quick. Drive on the road: keep him foot flat.”
He got his mum into care, and by evening she was improving. He was sitting by her bed when a nurse came to get him.
“The sergeant wants to talk to you, Gavin.”
She led him into the reception area where he came face-to-face with a scowling police officer.
“Gavin,” the sergeant told him, “Get your bum to police station by eight o’clock in the morning. Don’t be late. We need to chat and I’ve a very busy day tomorrow.”
Gavin didn’t sleep well but at eight o’clock he fronted the sergeant as instructed.
The man eyed Gavin for thirty seconds, before digging under the counter and producing a plastic card, which he handed to the young man.
“This, young man, is a temporary driver’s licence, and your proper one will be here in a couple of weeks. It means you are now allowed to drive on any road in a licenced vehicle that is either automatic or has gears. I’ve given this to you because I think you’re a good driver and very sensible kid. If you ever prove me wrong about either of those things, I kick your arse so hard you’ll wear it for a necklace. Now get out of here and behave yourself.”