Kerry French joined the Western Australia Police Force (WA Police) in October 1985, serving across a variety of metropolitan police stations before being appointed as Detective in 1989 and serving in different specialist units working on organised and major crime. Throughout her career, Kerry held multiple positions and undertook roles in Intelligence, National Police Advisor to CRIMTRAC, Review Manager within the WA Police Reform team and Visiting Fellow at the Australian Federal Police Academy for a specialized serious crime course, concluding as Inspector and Staff Officer to the Deputy Commissioner. Kerry also received the Australian Police Medal.
Thanks for agreeing to chat with us Kerry! What led you to join the Western Australian Police Force?
I can only ever remember wanting to be a Police Officer, driven by my desire to help those in the community, and also in part by the community volunteer work I had undertaken as a teenager.
I applied to be a police cadet just prior to graduating from High School only to be informed WA Police weren’t recruiting any woman that year. I was given the advice to do something else and reapply when I turned 19.
On reflection, this was sound advice as it meant prior to joining WA Police I had the opportunity to:
- Attend University, broadening my knowledge, skills and thinking, gaining an educational qualification and the ability to teach, coach and mentor;
- Attain a teaching position in a very multicultural, low socio-economic suburb of Perth on completion of my studies. In this role I matured quickly in order to deal with many societal challenges and the impact they had on children and families; and,
- Travel broadly giving me a rich appreciation of diversity and cultural difference.
These three factors only further fuelled my focus and motivation to make a difference in people’s lives.
Can you tell us about one of your most rewarding experiences in the police force?
One of my most rewarding experiences came some eight years after my original investigations into the kidnapping and serious sexual assault of a young girl on her way to school. I still vividly remember knocking on the door of her family home and telling her we had charged her attacker. I will always remember the impact it had on me when she said, “Thanks for never giving up.”
I think my rewarding experiences throughout my policing career have arisen out of the many team WA Police moments and the impact they had on individuals and the community.
What were some of the challenges you faced as female in the police force, particularly during your early years?
Joining at a time when every woman knew every other woman in the job meant for the most part you were the solo female working in a completely male dominated environment. At times, this created a feeling of isolation in the workplace.
Sometimes the challenge was just to be treated fairly and with respect in the workplace. We had to stand firm as a female cohort to implement and change policies such as part time work arrangements and parental leave.
I am grateful to the women that proceeded me, paving the way to make it easier for me to work in this profession. I am also grateful to the woman of my era that supported me through the challenging times. Individually and collectively we have been able to achieve and contribute to many advances in gender equality.
What each of us do today should continue to shape and pave the way forward for a diverse and inclusive workforce of the future.
Can you tell us about a positive development for women in policing that developed over your career?
I joined when the uniform of the day for females was a tailored light blue dress, closed together at the front with a number of little round silver buttons where the swan embossed on each had to be aligned to 12 o’clock. This was paired with high heels, stockings and a blue handbag for holding your notebook, hand cuffs and gun.
During scenario training at the police academy in 1985, women were allowed to ditch the handbag and carry our pen and notebook, and wear a gun holster (designed for the wide belts worn by our male counterparts) on the thin belt which sat around the waist of our tailored blue dress. In one scenario, as I chased a male simulating a suspect, I kicked off my heels and wound up with my feet protruding through holes in my stockings, covered in dirt and horse manure. During the chase, the gun fell out of the holster and I doubled back to pick it up, only to find my dress had unbuttoned itself in the process of traversing fences in the chase. By the time I had retraced my steps to collect my high heels I had decided it was time to challenge the status quo of the female uniform.
Our academy was unique; never before had there been this collective of women in one academy. Every woman in my academy had purchased multiple pairs of new navy-blue high heel shoes or at least repaired and replaced the heels, worn out and damaged as we marched and ran around the parade ground in them. Collectively, we challenged the female uniform.
By the time we graduated from the academy, with the support of our female instructor and academy staff, women were issued with the same blue shirts as our male colleagues to be worn with our winter uniform skirt, stockings and flat navy-blue shoes. This was the beginning of the uniform revolution!
Finally, who inspires you?
So many people for so many different reasons!
My friends and family first and foremost. Also, young people – they think differently! I was privileged to Chair the Organising Committee for the 17th Australasian Police and Emergency Services Games, leading a team of 10 remarkably talented young people who delivered the most creative and innovative event for over 3000 participants from 7 countries, participating in 52 sports over 7 days, engaging 500 plus volunteers. I was truly inspired by their achievements
Updated: 25 Jun 2020