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RICHARD McDONALD, NSW Police Prosecutions Command

When Richard McDonald enrolled to study law and psychology, he had his sights set on a counselling career.

His father had other ideas and wanted him to follow in the family business as a butcher.

“I was in my mid-20s when dad passed away,” McDonald says. “Dad really inspired me to follow what I wanted to do even though he wasn’t a fan of me joining the police. For me, I wanted to help the community and make a difference in that way.”

McDonald, 43, has been a sworn police officer since May 1999 and has had a varied career in general duties and criminal investigations in western Sydney as well as internal affairs. He has witnessed the worst that work has to offer – fatal car accidents, babies killed by their parents, murders and drug deals. He describes himself as “injured” and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, which he manages partly through exercise.

“I ride a 45km loop each morning and longer rides on the weekend,” McDonald says.

“When I am on the bike, I often think of the cases I have dealt with. Or I have the faces of my two children in my mind. They are seven and five and I want the world to be safer for them.”

In 2003, McDonald’s work life flourished when he joined what was then called NSW Police Service Legal Services.

The next year he was admitted to practise as a solicitor and graduated as a police prosecutor. These days, McDonald offers training, advice and legal services to police prosecutors and operational police of all ranks, and oversees the Appeals Unit.

There are about 325 police prosecutors in NSW and another 45 prosecutors who are in training plus 15 unsworn staff in the Police Prosecutions Command. Most of the work is in the Local Court, but police prosecutors also appear in the Children’s Court, the Coroner’s Court, Adult Drug Court and District Court for Commonwealth appeal matters.

The NSW Police Prosecutions Command tells JANE SOUTHWARD about his passion for combining policing and legal advice.

“My dad, Gordon, was a quadriplegic. He had a diving accident when I was seven. He didn’t have fine motor control but he could move his arms. Still, he taught himself to drive again and became totally independent. He had nurses who would get him up and put him to bed and cook for him but overall he was about as independent as you could be.

I have dad to thank for inspiring me to be a police officer and a solicitor. My passion has always been cognitive and about people and dad’s determination to deal with his disability taught me a lot. From an early age, I have had to be resilient and adaptable. I studied law at Macquarie University and had planned to go into counselling as a career but I went into policing because of my dad. He passed away in 1998 and I had always held off joining the police. When he died, I thought life is too short. I need to do what I feel passionate about.

My parents divorced before he had his accident and my mum raised me as a single mother. My great grandfather on my mother’s side was Captain Frank Hurley from the Shackleton expeditions. I come from that adventurous explorer background and I have that spirit in me, too. It’s always been part of me to challenge myself. I really enjoy leading people.

Next year I am going to do the Indian Pacific Wheel Race, a solo bike race from Freemantle to Sydney that covers 5,500 kilometres. Not only am I going to complete it over three weeks but I am going to place.

I have always been interested in how people overcome adversity. I ride my bike every morning with that front of mind. It’s not just a way for people to relieve the day-to-day pressures and stress. It helps me discover who I am and how resilient I can be..

After university, I trained at Goulburn Police Force Academy for three months, having entered the police force as a graduate student police officer. After that, I started at Blacktown and, when the Olympics were in Sydney in 2000, I did a secondment to the Olympic Village. After the Olympics, I was asked to relieve as a sergeant – of course I was interested as I had only been in the job for two years. I was seconded to College Street then Parramatta. I did a stint at Crime Agencies investigating outlaw motorcycle gangs, and plain clothes work in Cabramatta. I also worked in internal investigations.

Now I work in the Police Prosecutions Command. I try to educate police in the field as well as police prosecutors to do a better job, a more efficient job, to think about issues more critically and argue them more creatively, rather than go to the same old law book that everyone has and use the same arguments.

Part of my job is to help police prosecutors expand their legal skills and their ability to think critically. I am kind of like an in-house counsel for police prosecutors. I write two digital publications for prosecutors, The Briefcase, about new legal updates, and Flashback Friday, which outlines important legal precedents and how they have developed and are applied in courts. Police  prosecutors prosecute up to 95 per cent of all criminal matters in the state in the Local Court, We have had a successful prosecution rate over the past five years of between 87 to 91 per cent. It’s a huge responsibility.”

Photography: Jason McCormack