Forty years behind the scenes of Central QLD crimes

WHETHER it's a murder, a rape, a fatal car crash, a break and enter or a wilful damage, chances are Senior Sergeant Michael Powell will be at the scene.

The officer in charge at Rockhampton's Scenes of Crime division has helped solve some of Rockhampton's most high profile cases, and thousands more in his 40 years as a police officer.

He began at Brisbane's Oxley Academy as a cadet in 1975 and was inducted into the Queensland Police Service in 1977.

He has been stationed in Rockhampton since 1981, following short stints on Bribie Island and in Brisbane.

Looking back on his distinguished career, it's amazing to think that after only three years Snr Sgt Powell wanted to give up policing altogether.

"I have a great respect for uniformed police, just the work they do on a day-to-day basis, because I know how hard it was," he said.

"I was going to get out of it because I didn't think it was something that I liked. My boss at the time said 'why don't you go into forensics', which I did.

"That's the beauty of the police department, there are so many different areas to serve in … it's just finding your niche."

He said he loves the certainty that comes with forensic investigations, which involves processing scenes and collecting evidence.

"The evidence is what it is. It's probably a cliché that it doesn't lie … whereas I found when I was in uniform that whoever you spoke to, it was never the truth," he said.

"That was the difficult thing, trying to weed it out.

"I was probably very lucky to fall into forensics which I found to be probably more compatible to my personality."

But it's not all CSI or Criminals Minds behind the scenes in Snr Sgt Powell's office - although he said it's interesting to see they use the same technology.

That technology has changed dramatically in the 40 years since he first started.

They're no longer stuck photographing scenes with black and white cameras or developing film in dark rooms back at the station.

DNA technology is also a relatively new development, but interestingly enough fingerprinting techniques are basically the same- but chemical methods allow them to get prints off more surfaces than ever, like plastic bags, metal and even paper.

"Any evidence we get is intelligence rather than evidence. To find your DNA at a scene, does that mean you've done the offence? No," he said.

"What we do is give the detectives and other police officers the intelligence to go (and solve the crime)."

When he first started he was one of two officers in the Scenes of Crime unit, but now there are 11 of them covering an area half way to Gladstone, half way to Mackay, and half way to Emerald.

"We're trained for volume crime (like break and enters), which we do every day, but we're prepared for the bigger ones," he said.

Easily the worst part of the job would have to be seeing the bodies of people. They have to look into every death where a medical certificate is not issued, which has happened in 63 cases this year.

They've also had to respond to nine fatalities.

But despite dealing with such scenarios on a daily basis, Snr Sgt Powell said he doesn't think it's changed his lifestyle or made him paranoid, although he admits his house is more secure.

"I find that people who live in Rocky who have a high set house with a fence and a dog don't get a visit from me. Consequently, I've got a high set house, a fence and a dog," he said.

"Although my wife still gets up me for not shutting the door."

Snr Sgt Powell said even after 40 years he enjoys his job, even on summer days where he has to put up with the Rockhampton heat while wearing a full body protection suit to avoid contaminating a scene.

Other protective equipment, he's not so used to.

He doesn't enjoy having to wear his gun, taser, pepper spray, batons and handcuffs everywhere he goes, which is mandatory for police now because of the terrorism threat.

"I can understand why we're doing it, it's just a pity we've got to this stage," he said.

Regardless, it's a stage he probably never envisioned when he first decided to join the police force- which he did more to avoid having to go through to Year 12 than due to any ambitions to be a police officer.

Now, he couldn't imagine it any other way.

This month Snr Sgt Powell, alongside Snr Sgt Robyn Hanley, received the Queensland Police Service Medal for 40 years of diligent and ethical service.

High profile

While the Scenes of Crime Unit are trained for high volume crime like break and enters, they are prepared for anything that comes along.

Some of the more high profile jobs that Senior Sergeant Michael Powell has investigated from a forensics point of view have been:

The Factory Nightclub bombing,

The murder of police officer Norm Watts at Alton Downs

The crash of the RACQ Capricorn Rescue Helicopter at Marlborough, where five people died

Scenes from serial killer Leonard Fraser, like the Queenslander Hotel

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