Police ready to hit highways to raise money

By Myles Peterson

Teams of police striding along highways will become a common sight in October.

The inaugural event, a joint initiative of Victoria Police and the Police Association of Victoria, dubbed the ‘‘Head to Head’’ fundraising walk, is drawing attention to the plight of retired officers and raising funds to help combat mental health issues.

Two walks set off from Mallacoota and Mildura on October 1.

The walkers will wind their way across the state, with one group passing through Tongala, Kyabram and Shepparton on October 20, before moving on towards Benalla.

Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton and Police Association secretary Wayne Gatt would lead twin teams, walking more than 1000km across the state, hoping to raise $500000 to fund a retired peer support officer program.

Chief Comm Ashton has a passion for supporting the mental health of police officers, in the job and retired.

‘‘People call police when they are at the most vulnerable times of their life,’’ he said.

‘‘Police go there and are trained to try and bring the situation to order. They do so confidently, but they are also human beings.

‘‘They are often confronting those same dramatic, graphic and terrible scenes as the victim and that takes its toll despite the best training.

‘‘Police often leave the job experiencing mental health issues and, although we are funded to support current employees, we don’t look after our retired officers.

‘‘I can’t turn back the clock, but I can try to do something going forward to tackle the issue.’’

Mr Gatt said police often faced difficult circumstances that could leave a lasting mental health impact.

‘‘Unless you’ve experienced it yourself, you simply can’t walk a mile in the shoes of a police officer suffering from a mental health condition as a result of what they’ve seen and felt in the job,’’ he said.

‘‘Together though, we will walk more than 600 miles in our own shoes to raise awareness.’’