“I couldn’t understand why he had no shoes” A Govt 2.0 success story

During the Government 2.0 inquiry a Web 2.0 enthusiast in the Qld police force wrote me an email suggesting that life wasn’t easy for web 2.0 inside his agency. I stayed in touch but wasn’t really able to do much other than encourage in various ways. Anyway, he says that things are very different now – perhaps to some extent because of the Govt 2.0 Taskforce work, but probably more because it’s the zeitgeist to look at how these new platforms can be used to help address the missions of various agencies.

A few days ago he referred me to this link in Facebook. Apart from the choice of platform there’s nothing very ‘hip’ about it, but it’s a great use of the immediacy of social media. Anyway, check out the link if you like, or read my edited version of it below. And read it before you go on any long Christmas drives.

I couldn’t understand why he had no shoes.

He was wearing a dark suit and socks but no shoes.

He was about 80 years of age.

He was dead.

It was dark and he had been crossing the road when he was hit by a car and thrown onto the footpath.

Later we would find out that he had been visiting his wife.  She was in hospital.  It was the first time they had been apart in their married life of over 50 years.

He had caught a train and was walking to their house from the railway station. He must have misjudged the speed of the approaching car as he tried to cross the road near their house.

It was my first fatal and as is the case for most police it was early in my service as a young and inexperienced constable.

He had been wearing shoes.  We found them when we were looking for the probable point of impact.

It was the shoes that showed us where his last moment was.  They were on the roadway together.

He must have stopped and looked towards the headlights that were about to illuminate the end of his life.  The intense force of the impact had lifted him out of them and they were left there as silent witnesses.

Later I would see that again – pedestrians wearing loose fitting shoes which would remain on the road after their owners have been hit by cars. It was one of many learnings from my experience of fatals.

Fatal. The word used by police to describe an incident when one or more people die. A single word to sum up the brutality of sudden, violent and sadly avoidable death.  The carnage, the pain, the loss of existence and future, the shattering of plans, dreams and families.  The, at-times, horrific scenes of the dismembered or incinerated who only moments before were rich with the gift of life.  The harshness on the senses – sights, sounds, touch and smells that can be sharply recalled years later in a triggered instant.  All this distilled into one word – fatal. . . .

There is an accompaniment to every fatal.  That is the advice to relatives or other loved ones.  That terrible news – that brings with it a thousand questions and sudden sad and severe change forever – is in police parlance condensed into two words: death message.

. . . . 1n my experience there is no greater pain than that of a mother for her lost child.  No words of mine can describe the extent and depth of that heart-torn sorrow.

Mothers also have a bond that defies logic.  One of my death messages was to inform parents that their 12-year-old son, holidaying in the country with relatives, had gone for a drive with a young male relative and they had both been killed.

It was the early morning hours when I got the job to deliver the death message.  As I drove up the street I calculated the street number, drove well past it, turned the police car around and turned off the lights and engine, stopping near the house.

I walked up the drive and onto the steps and the door opened.  It was his mother. She would later tell me that as the police car first drove past she woke, looked out of the window and knew that her son was gone. She put on her dressing gown and went to the front door to be told what somehow her intrinsic maternal senses had already conveyed.

Most police have their own stories of fatals and death messages.  Some time ago we stopped referring to fatals as accidents. We now call them crashes.  We don’t like calling them accidents because they are almost always avoidable.

How are they avoidable?  What we call the fatal four is a good start.  Don’t speed; don’t drink or use drugs and drive; don’t drive tired or fatigued and wear seat belts.

They are the most important but there are other things also, including driving to the road and weather conditions which may be well below the speed limit; showing patience and courtesy to other road users; concentrating on your driving and having your vehicle in good shape mechanically.

And you could really help us by not just doing all of this yourself but by helping to influence as many others as you can to do the same.

We are your police service.  The most important thing we do is to keep you safe from harm.  The greatest risk to you from harm is on our roads.

So if we seem fanatically and intensely focused on this please try to understand why.  We want you and your loved ones to be safe.

We don’t want you to be one of our fatals or death messages.

Queensland Police Commissioner
Bob Atkinson APM

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Kym Charlton, Director QPS Media

Thanks for highlighting the Commissioner’s open letter on road safety on the QPS Facebook page.

We’ve put a lot of work into our social media engagement in the past 7 months, and have found a community of “friends” eager to hear about the activities of the QPS, and have their say on our activities.

From kick-off in May this year to present, we have gained about 7000 likes on the Facebook page, and are regularly recieving 180,000 views each day, peaking at 250,000 views when we uploaded material from the funeral of one of our officers last week.

We have live chats with specialist officers every week or so (today’s chat is with state traffic, as we’ve been inundated on FB with questions about road rules…a recent post “can I drive barefoot” received more than 100 comments…go figure. (you can, by the way)

While Govt 2.0 is challenging for risk-adverse organisations, social netwroking provides invaluable opportunities for us to engage directly with our community, and get our messages to them directly, without distortion through the prism of the media.

The true value of this engagement will be in time if disaster or other critical incident. We have a ready-made community who WANT to spread our messages. We’ve already seen this when we used Facebook and Twitter during a Child Abduction Alert. The message had already reached thousands of people, and was being activitely disseminated by them, before the first mainstream message appeared.

Have a safe Christmas and New Year.

13 years ago

Yay for QPS Media. Seriously.