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August 24, 2003

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Officer Volunteered for Fatal Job

Officer Down: Senior Sergeant Perry Irwin - [Queensland Police Service, Australia, ]

25 August 2003

The day started out like any other for Senior-Sergeant Perry Irwin (officer in charge of Caboolture Police Station), except this shift would be the one that ended his life.

The police officer began his 8am shift last Friday with the routine checking of crime sheets from the previous night.

Thirty minutes later he spoke to Caboolture District Inspector Russell Janke to discuss upcoming operations targeting property crime in the local community.

"We had been planning the operations for next month and just as we walked back to Perry's office to check next month's rosters the call came through Communications just before 11am," Insp Janke said yesterday.

Two children had phoned in saying a man had accosted them in bushland in Caboolture East and he had a gun wrapped in a rag.

The man yelled at the children to get out, saying he had hidden a gun in the bush and he was going to shoot a police officer.

"Sergeant Pat Daley told us what was going on and he had sent two cars down to the area," Insp Janke said "Pat knew who the kids were talking about and he briefed us about his prior dealings with him."

Members of the public phoned in with sightings of the 21-year-old local resident, Damien Lawrance Coates, walking through other parts of the bushland which backed on to a lagoon.

Police were growing apprehensive as there were rows of houses and a large school area within several hundred metres of where Coates had been seen.

"Perry said we should go down and see there was an actual firearm there and he said 'I'll go too'.

"That was just him, he didn't have to do it. He had had a determined look on his face and had made up his mind he would get down there and isolate this bloke," Insp Janke said.

Sen-Sgt Irwin and two other police officers, a senior constable and constable, donned their vests as they left the station.

"They wanted to assess the situation and see if they could get between him (Coates) and the gun. We wanted to contain him before he reached any houses or the school area," Insp Janke said.

As the three officers left the station in the patrol car, police at the station began to put cordons in place and declared a state of emergency so schools and residents could be evacuated.

"While that was being done we got a call that there were shots fired and Perry had been shot . . . it wasn't long after they had left the station," Insp Janke said.

Sen-Sgt Irwin, who had entered the bushland on foot with two officers, was shot when he walked to an elevated clearing to use his mobile phone to report back to the station.

Coates, a violent criminal who was heavily addicted to amphetamines, turned his high-powered rifle on the other two officers who took cover behind trees.

The 21-year-old gunman was hidden behind a disused concrete pit. The two officers were unable to reach their fallen colleague and had to crawl out of the bush to safety.

Police descended on the area with reinforcements sent from the surrounding Sunshine Coast region as well as special emergency response officers.

Police prosecutors were even called in to bolster numbers as police moved to contain the area.

Officers pushed their emotions and fears for their colleagues to the back of their minds as they focused on reaching Sen-Sgt Irwin and the other two officers while tracking the gunman.

"You switch off to everything but the job at hand . . . it's very hard but you have to stay in control," said Insp Janke who was working in Rockhampton when dog squad officer Norm Watt was murdered on duty in 2000.

As police contained the area, officers entered the bushland about 12.20pm and found Coates dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

"But once the situation was under control, the emotions took over, it hit all of us at the station," Insp Janke said. "Perry was the sort of person who lived for the job, he settled in really quickly and hit the ground running."

Insp Janke said Sen-Sgt Irwin was always approachable and a good leader to his staff.

"He lived for the job but he was just as devoted to his family – he was always out the door in the afternoon to kick the football with his youngest son and was planning to taken him to the Broncos game next week.

"He had also been helping his oldest daughter with driving lessons and she only got her driver's licence a couple of weeks ago," Insp Janke said.

He said Sen-Sgt Irwin spent his week nights at meetings with community organisations such as Neighbourhood Watch.

SEN-Sgt Irwin once attracted more than 250 people to the Bribie Island RSL to teach them how to negotiate a round-about.

The police office who ran the Bribie Island station was more than a police officer, according to community leaders who mourned him yesterday.

State Labor Member for Pumicestone Carryn Sullivan said Sen-Sgt Irwin went far beyond his call of duty as a police officer, pouring enormous amounts of energy into community work.

"We all know when someone dies people will say wonderful things about them but with Perry people are really, genuinely, meaning what they say," Ms Sullivan said.

"You met him, you liked him.

"He just made everyone feel comfortable."

Sen-Sgt Irwin helped establish "Brats" – the Bribie Island Road Awareness Team, and he worked on Neighbourhood Watch.

Ms Sullivan said she met with the Sergeant once a month, always over Lamingtons made by the Uniting Church.

"I never once had to write a ministerial (correspondence with the minister over problems) in the entire time he was here," she said.

"If there was a problem he went out and fixed it."

Crime was kept in check in large part to his instance of a high visual presence in the community," she said.

Ken Frey, the local Apex president who also heads up the cricket club and works a treasurer on the recreational association said Sen-Sgt Perry was a friendly, likeable bloke who always had time to listen.

The police officer worked with the Apex Club to bring a "graffiti trailer" to the island to help clean up graffiti.

"We was just always ready help out with whatever was going on," Mr Frey said.

Ken's wife Mary Frey said ocal teenagers, some of whom were not particularly fond of police officers, liked the local sergeant.

"When the kids like him, you know he must have been good," she said.

At another of his postings at Yarraman, Sergeant Irwin had run annual Police Charity Bowls days, raising $12,000 for local organisations including the local kindergarten and sporting clubs.

Rosalie Shire Council community development officer John Carey said Sen-Sgt Irwin would be long remembered for supporting community initiatives to help local youth, and residents wanted to create a legacy in memory of him.

He said townspeople were most distraught that Sen-Sgt Perry's children had lost their father.

In an interview shortly before leaving Yarraman, Sen-Sgt Irwin told a reporter he was grateful for Yarraman because the town had given his children the chance to achieve and to become part of a community.

Sen-Sgt Irwin said the only positive aspect to leaving Yarraman was that he would no longer be on call 24 hours a day, after working for ten years being on call around the clock.

Sen-Sgt Irwin said he was pleased to have achieved a 75-80 per cent crime clean-up rate and to have boosted the trust of the community in police.

Additional reporting by Michael Madigan and Amanda Gearing

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