June 30, 2017
Woman in uniform
A desire to make a difference put Debbie Platz on the path to becoming one of the country’s most influential women in law enforcement. The Australian Federal Police Assistant Commissioner shares her rise through the ranks and her battle to get more women in uniform.
Woman, mother, protector, leader; Debbie Platz has worn many hats over the years. But it is her position as Assistant Commissioner with the Australian Federal Police (AFP) that has fuelled her desire to take on what she says is her biggest challenge yet – helping her fellow sisters-in-arms cement their place as a valuable part of the nation’s police services.
After spending 32 years climbing the ranks of the Queensland Police Service, 22 of which were spent on the Sunshine Coast, Debbie has had an incredibly diverse career. From her time as a detective with the Child Protection and Investigation Unit, where she investigated crimes against children, to her role seeking justice in the courts for murder and sexual assault offences as a police prosecutor, Debbie has helped put away some of the state’s worst offenders. She has also trained police prosecutors, officers and recruits, managed internal reviews, and worked as the staff officer to the Queensland Commissioner, the Ministerial Liaison Officer and the Assistant Commissioner of the North Coast Region.
But while it is this wealth of experience that saw Debbie land the prestigious role of national manager for crime operations with the AFP in January this year, her career hasn’t come without its challenges.
Debbie joined the QPS in 1985 after an initial interest in journalism saw her shadow journalist and former crime reporter Kay McGrath. Instead, she found her true calling – behind the police tape.
“I got to see what was happening and thought I would probably rather be on the other side where all the action was happening, so that’s what initially sparked my interest,” Debbie says.
“I had some connections with the police – not in a bad way!” she jokes, “I had a few friends who were police officers so I spoke with them and started asking them questions. Of course, then I went home and told my parents, who were not very happy at all.”
Her parents’ concerns over her entering what they deemed to be a dangerous profession were just the beginning of her struggle to achieve in the blue uniform.
“At the time, very few women joined policing agencies – it was not a common thing for a woman to do,” explains Debbie.
“It wasn’t until later in my career that I started to take notice of how women were being treated and how we could do better in that space. One of the things I look back at and really regret is the fact that I didn’t help out a lot of women along the way, as I progressed through the ranks. I didn’t realise early enough that I had a responsibility to bring people on a journey with me. It wasn’t until I got towards the top that I realised, ‘Hey, I’m the only one here, where are all the women?’.
“For a while in the Queensland Police Service I was the most senior female and every meeting I went to was all men. I don’t believe anyone purposely set out to leave me out, but sometimes you sort of felt left out. I realised I needed to do something more to help women feel confident enough to take action – because they had the potential and the merit and the ability, but a lot of them weren’t prepared to put their hand up and apply for things. So I’ve really made an effort over the last five years, during my time in the Queensland Police Service to make sure that I did things that helped women.”
With this in mind, Debbie pushed for a women’s only leadership program, which the Australian Institute of Police Management has been successfully running for the past three years, and has been vocal about doing more to ensure other women, like her, have the opportunity to become leaders. She also took on the role of president for the Australian Council of Women and Policing, ensuring a voice for women in law enforcement. But despite attempts by police services in many states to improve the number of female officers with a 50/50 recruitment policy, the number of women in the forces are still down – making it clear that fixing the problem will be no easy feat.
I didn’t realise early enough that I had a responsibility to bring people on a journey with me. It wasn’t until I got towards the top that I realised, ‘Hey, I’m the only one here, where are all the women?’.”
“When I left the Queensland Police Service, it had 28 per cent of females across all ranks. If they continue to recruit at 50/50 for the next 10 years but continue to lose the number of females at the same rate, in 10 years they’ll have only increased to 33.5 per cent.
“If you don’t have your retention strategy right, then we’re still going to lose so many females at a certain point in their career or life. Generally this happens to be when women decide to have children, so the policies around retaining women during that childbearing, family-raising period have to be far more flexible,” says Debbie, a mother-of-three herself.
“It’s about we as a team and what we as a community can do to combat our issues.”
While she’s become an unofficial ambassador for women in the force, it’s not just the lack of female influence within the ranks that Debbie must deal with, but a constantly evolving world of crime.
“You can tend to lose that perspective of what the reality is for the community because you’re dealing with the worst of the worst a lot,” Debbie explains. “But for me the challenge is what encourages me to keep going. The smart criminals are often one step ahead of the police and with technology changing at such a fast rate … it’s an increasingly complex role that we have to play,” she says.
Now responsible for sensitive government investigations, criminal operations responses to crimes such as illegal drug, firearm and animal smuggling, and international victim-based operations, the Assistant Commissioner is faced with a daunting and demanding role, but it’s a challenge she says she is more than happy to take on – especially if it means paving the way for other ambitious women.
“I always say to people that if you are offered an opportunity to do something, unless you absolutely can’t do it, you should take it. That’s why I am now with the AFP.”