Keeping the beat with the boys in blue

"I DID nothing wrong... they're taking me, don't let them take me,” the sobbing could be heard from across the Jubilee Pocket street, the two police cars' lights illuminating the shadows of a couple and police officers in the front window of a home.

The setting is just past 2.30 in the early hours of Saturday morning and four Whitsunday police officers are responding to a call from a concerned neighbour who could hear yelling - an argument which turned into an arrest.

A typical Friday night in the Airlie Beach region might not have the crime rates of the Gold Coast where Detective Luke Scells transferred from but last Friday still provided plenty of action; from an attempted break-in to a domestic violence offence and a street brawl in the Safe Night Precinct.

Veteran cop Senior Constable Nathan Bentley is riding shotgun in the police van as he explains the boys in blue are on a 10-hour shift tonight, Det Scells stepping into relieving duty for the Commonwealth Games from his usual post upstairs in Whitsunday Criminal Investigation Branch.

The front line of the law isn't always pretty, it certainly isn't easy and often comes with abuse as "just part of the job”.

Snr Const Bentley phrases the sentiment best: "You're dealing with people at the darkest point in their life, whether they're a victim or an offender.”

It's often hard to remember the human perspective behind the badge, but both the men in this police van are sons, fathers and partners.

Both these men have to walk into the blackest part of society only to wake up and be prepared to do it again the next day.

Senior constable Nathan Bentley and detective Luke Scells talking to a driver for a road side breath test.
Senior constable Nathan Bentley and detective Luke Scells talking to a driver for a road side breath test. Jessica Lamb

Night shift action

"I'VE been saying the same thing for 10 years; it's just to a different bloke each time,” Dect Scells explains as a drunken man walks away from him towards Waterson Way.

The man had stumbled from outside a club in front of a moving police car about 11pm and instead of moving out the way, decided to give the police "the bird” (middle finger) and shout insults including "See you next Tuesday” and "pigs”.

After a brief discussion, Snr Const Bentley gives him a move-on direction and the man toddles off, ordered not to return before 6am.

"It's always the same conversation with drunk people,” he said.

From the night's events, it appears this behaviour towards the police is common as almost every interaction (aside from road-side breath tests) includes a smart comment or foul language.

The police car the man stepped in front of is carrying a 27-year-old Gold Coast man who allegedly punched out a 29-year-old Italian man's tooth in a nightclub at 1.45am the night before.

The alleged attacker was found out again in the SNP outside another club on Friday night when he was arrested, to be later released on bail for a court date on an assault charge.

Airlie Beach's Safe Night Precinct
Airlie Beach's Safe Night Precinct Jessica Lamb

About 3.10am the classic "bird” resurfaces - this time from a different person causing a street brawl in the alley outside the Irish pub.

It begins slowly, one man chasing another around the corner which is when everything moves into double time.

The crowd resembles an ant hill - suddenly everyone at the north end of the main street converges on one area either trying to throw a punch, tear one of the four people away from the confrontation or just to sticky-beak.

The two cops, Det Scells and Snr Const Bentley, in the immediate area sprint over and the fight lasts less than 30 seconds.

Three local men in their 20s and one Brisbane man are issued with public nuisance tickets.

At $756 each, the offenders now have substantial holes in their pockets.

It's not long before 3.45am when a drunken French tourist approaches police looking for a lost ID.

The mystery is solved when it is revealed the man stole a bottle of pink syrup mixer from behind the Boom Nightclub bar.

Boom had held on to the ID and CCTV in order to report the alleged incident.

On a lighter side, drunken interactions with police include a German backpacker telling police around midnight just how much "nicer” they are than law enforcement back home and complimenting one officer in particular how "beautifully white” his teeth are.

Earlier in the night, just before 8pm, a Cannonvale mother returned to her home in Endeavour Circuit to hear someone rattling her back security doors.

"I didn't really think, I just rushed towards the sound,” she tells police. It evidently worked as the would-be burglar was scared off.

Detective Luke Scells looking for clues at the Cannonvale attempted break in on Friday night.
Detective Luke Scells looking for clues at the Cannonvale attempted break in on Friday night. Jessica Lamb

Dealing with the job

DETECTIVE Scells' worst day on the job was Christmas Day 2012.

He attended a home where the couple's only child, aged four, had drowned in their pool.

"That was pretty hard.”

His resume includes high profile murder court cases from the Brisbane Supreme Court.

"When I was doing my resume for transferring to the Whitsundays I realised I had worked on 15 homicides.”

Snr Const Bentley describes walking into what he thought was a domestic disturbance after noise complaints.

"It was a family who had been invited over to celebrate this couple's new baby,” he said. "The baby had died in her sleep.

"You just kind of deal with it.”

Both agreed "you leave work at work”.

Det Scells explained his work with Whitsunday Criminal Investigation Branch wasn't as easy to leave at the door.

"We normally work on one major operation at a time,” he said.

"It's good here because you can actually see the difference in the community after a big bust.”

Being in a small community, however, it isn't always a choice to leave the uniform at work.

"Often you run into people on the street when you're not at work and they are people you have arrested. I mean it's a small community,” Snr Const Bentley said.

"It's pretty good here though, mostly people just say g'day.”

Det Scells wanted to be a police officer from age four.

"I guess I just wanted to make the world a better place,” he said.

Snr Const Bentley, however, was inspired after his partner worked for the police and he heard tales from the job.

"I applied after I hung around with cops and heard their stories,” he said.

"On the force there is a good cross-section of society - just like the street.”

Whitsunday Times journalist Jessica Lamb spent a night on shift with the Whitsunday police.
Whitsunday Times journalist Jessica Lamb spent a night on shift with the Whitsunday police. Jessica Lamb

When asked what is the biggest misconception about police, both officers laugh.

"That we are 'mean'. We aren't mean. We are just doing our job and making sure people are doing the right thing as part of society.”


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