Rocky police station boss shares experience as a working mum

The Officer-in-Charge of Rockhampton Station, Senior Sergeant Hanlen has found that her strength lies in working with people, which is an ideal skill to have when you are the boss of around 50 police officers and 10 administrative staff in a busy regional centre.

It was almost by chance that Senior Sergeant Hanlen even came to policing. Unhappy with her choice of teaching as a career, she was 18-years-old and at a loose end when a family member challenged her to give policing a go.

An event she experienced during the application process convinced her she'd found the right path.

"I'm not much of a runner, so I had to train hard before attempting the 2.4km run to be accepted into the recruit program," she said.

"I remember the test well.

"There were a few of us on the oval at the QPS Academy and a bunch of people up on the hill, watching.

"I found out later they were recruits already on their training course.

"One girl was really struggling and running too slowly.

"What happened next was just amazing.

"All the people on the hill came down and started running with her to encourage her along, and with that support, she passed the test. "

I thought, 'this is an organisation where everyone helps each other, and I want to be part of that.'"

Rockhampton Police Officer in Charge Kelly Hanlen
Rockhampton Police Officer in Charge Kelly Hanlen

Senior Sergeant Hanlen passed her test too and was sworn-in to the QPS in 1993 after making lifelong friends at the Academy.

Her first year was spent at Brisbane City, followed by three years at Fortitude Valley. She loved the work and was carried by the sense that she and her police colleagues could take on any offender and protect the community by working together.

Eventually she felt the need to branch out and set her sights on becoming a detective.

Child Abuse and Sexual Assault, Crime Operations, was a confronting start to this line of work, followed by the Inala Child Protection and Investigation Unit (CPIU), where she earned her detective's appointment.

By 2001, the then-detective senior constable was married to another detective and the couple made the move to Gladstone.

Her husband had been promoted to officer in charge (OIC) of the Gladstone CPIU, and she broadened her investigative experience by gaining a position with Gladstone Criminal Investigation Branch (CIB).

The couple's first child was born in 2004, and she applied to work part-time.

"My husband gained a further promotion in Rockhampton, so in 2004, we were off again," she said.

"I was pregnant with twins at this stage, and I had no problem gaining a part-time position with Rockhampton CIB.

"That worked well for the next three years, but then in 2008 I was promoted to detective sergeant, which was an interesting journey to remain part time."

She became one the first detective sergeants to work part-time, adjusting her hours to full-time if a big job came in.

It was in 2011 that a new opportunity from left field presented itself.

"I was asked to relieve as Acting Senior Sergeant, OIC, at Rockhampton Police Communications Centre.

"This was completely out of the box for me, as I'd been a detective for 15 years and had no technical expertise whatsoever.

"There is a great mix of police and unsworn staff at the communications centre and what they really needed was a people-focused boss. I absolutely loved it."

By this stage she was back to working full-time and after relieving for a year, won the promotion to Senior Sergeant in 2012.

"Senior Sergeant Hanlen had discovered her strength as an OIC, and in 2017 successfully applied for the position of OIC at Rockhampton Station."

She has remained in this challenging role for four years and now finds herself in the position of fielding requests for flexible working hours.

"Being an OIC myself, I understand the difficulties in accommodating requests for part-time.

"I know women who have left the service because they had kids and couldn't get the balance right.

"But the mindset has changed now, and the fact that we are so willing to be flexible, means that they are too.

"I'm always prepared to listen and see what officers are prepared to offer in return.

"I get better results when people feel they can talk about it and not have that angst and tension around the conversation.

"Happy people work well.

"These are new times in the service and I am proud to support part time flexible working arrangements."

Senior Sergeant Kelly Hanlen with a damaged police van in 2018.
Senior Sergeant Kelly Hanlen with a damaged police van in 2018.

Being a 'people person' and having a genuine interest in her staff are strengths that, according to Capricornia District Officer Superintendent Ron Van Saane, have made her a respected and admired officer, OIC and mentor to many across the district. She prides herself on having genuine working relationships with subordinates, peers and leaders alike.

"I think it's important to acknowledge wins and accept that while they may have had a difficult shift, they've done something good and made a difference to someone's life," she said.

Having served for 28 years in the QPS, Senior Sergeant Hanlen said choosing a career as a police officer would realistically always be a challenge for women.

"It's simply the nature of the job.

"When I first joined up, many of my female friends were horrified at the thought of me out in the valley at night tackling offenders and arresting drug dealers.

"It worked for me, but it's just not something that all women want to do.

"If I had joined the police 50 years ago, it would have been very different being a woman.

"But I do think it's a daily challenge to be true to ourselves and the type of people we are.

"We need to accept that women are different from men.

"We talk, walk and act differently and we have different emotions.

"Sometimes I'll be the only female at the table in a meeting and I start to wonder if it would make a difference if I acted more like a man.

"Would I be a better OIC or a stronger leader?

"I have been fortunate to attend leadership programs within the QPS that have helped me become aware that as women, we often don't back ourselves enough. I may not talk like a man, but I still make valid points.

"I may have moments of self-doubt, but then I'm in, boots-and-all."

"My advice is to be yourself. It's okay to be a woman. I love my role in the QPS, it's a great job."

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