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AFP Leaders - Krissy Barrett

Growing up in Victoria in the 1990s, Commander Krissy Barrett was fascinated by true crime. While she didn't quite realise her childhood dream of becoming the real 'Halifax: Forensic Psychiatrist!', her career in the AFP has seen her transition from an intern to a Commander in one of the AFP's busiest regional commands. Along her journey, Commander Barrett has challenged perceptions, led by example and paved the way for other young female officers.

What motivated you to apply to become a police officer/AFP member?

As a teenager, true crime and police culture fascinated me.

I grew up in Victoria in the 80s and 90s, an era that included a spate of police shootings, mass murders and the start of the gangland wars.

I began a Criminal Justice degree, naively hell-bent on becoming the real 'Halifax: Forensic Psychiatrist!' But the more I listened to the mature-age students in my lectures talking about their nightshifts on the divisional van, the more I started considering a policing career.

Midway through the last year of my degree, I spent 12 weeks in the AFP Melbourne Office on an internship - and that was it, I was hooked. I experienced so many different facets of operational policing, including multiple search warrants and 'controlled deliveries'. I had an awesome insight into the breadth and capabilities of the AFP. By the time I graduated from university, I was working in the AFP Melbourne Office as an Investigative Assistant and waiting for an opportunity to start a police recruit course.

How have you seen the AFP change in your time in the organisation?

I feel the September 11 terrorist attacks and the 2002 Bali Bombings really changed the AFP. Even though we were born out of a terrorist incident in 1979, our flagship capabilities had really traditionally revolved around drug importations and fraud investigations.

As a result of these events our capabilities grew exponentially in counter-terrorism, forensics, disaster-victim identification, covert technology, regional stability and capacity building. By 2010 we had grown significantly in numbers and in reputation, and mums and dads knew who the AFP was. There are so many amazing people across the AFP who built their experience and expertise during that era – the same people that now lead the way in teaching and guiding the next generation of AFP members.

Tell us about a moment that stands out in your career?

The 2002 Bali Bombings had a big impact on me. I was working in the AFP Melbourne Office as an Investigative Assistant and had celebrated my 21st birthday at the Sari Club in Kuta the year before.

I relocated to Canberra to work in the AFP Incident Coordination Centre and it was the first time I had seen the AFP in action outside of Melbourne. I had personal connections to a number of victims in the bombings and was continually amazed and comforted by the dedication, compassion, professionalism, competence and perseverance displayed by so many AFP members during that time. It reinforced my desire to be a police officer.

A deployment to the Solomon Islands in 2003 also had a strong impact on me and the eventual direction of my career. It was my first close-up exposure to true community policing and is when the penny dropped for me that it is all about problem solving and communication.

Up until then I had wanted to be a Federal Agent in Melbourne, but not long after that deployment I accepted an offer for an ACT Policing recruit course and ended up spending ten years in community policing.   

What do you think is a common misconception of the AFP?

We are a victim of our own success in that people probably assume there is a lot more of us than what there actually is. We really do punch above our weight in terms of our global reach and our ability to change directions and respond very quickly. I've been fortunate to travel on behalf of the AFP during the past few years and I'm proud of the reputation we have with our overseas partners, and how we stand alongside massive organisations like the Federal Bureau of Investigations, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and some of our European colleagues.

It's difficult for the public to truly grasp the diversity of the work we do, and how many different opportunities exist for potential employees. You can forge multiple careers within the one organisation. I've worked in a regional command, an offshore deployment, frontline community policing, headquarters investigations, and across police and support roles. There's not many organisations that can offer that.

What are you most proud of in your career?

I'm definitely proud of demonstrating that you can have a successful operational career while balancing family responsibilities - and mentoring others through this challenge.

I challenged some very outdated assumptions to be the first Frontline Patrol Sergeant in ACT Policing to work part-time, after my first child was born.

This taught me a lot about resilience and determination, and to never stereotype or underestimate people. Some of the strongest support for my part-time arrangement came from people I didn't expect and they were pivotal to me forging a path for others. I will forever continue to pay their support forward.

I was also proud to be awarded the Mark Scott Memorial Legacy Scholarship in 2015, which I used to complete a research study into gender roles in frontline policing.

From an operational perspective, my current role as Commander Operations Southern Command brings me a lot of joy and satisfaction. Under the AFP's new regional command model, I can really shape the strategic and operational direction of my workforce, which includes Counter Terrorism First Response, Aviation Security and the protection of Commonwealth assets and interests. I have a great group of professional and dedicated members – their job is to protect the community, and mine is to ensure they have all the tools and guidance they need to do it.

I am also very proud of what the AFP Money Laundering Panel delivered during my time as National Coordinator Money Laundering. Panel members were experts in their field and it was such a pleasure to lead them. They achieved a range of operational and strategic results for the AFP and gained a great reputation across the law enforcement community. This was one of those rare times when you feel like everyone was in the right place at the right time.

What challenges do you believe the AFP will face going forward?

The biggest challenge will continue to be the need for the AFP to be a million different things at once. We are frontline community policing, we are specialist protection, we are leading investigators across serious organised crime, serious financial crime, victim-based crime, counter-terrorism and special investigations, and we lead the way internationally in many specialist and technology capabilities.

This positions us uniquely to respond to whatever the needs of the Australian Government and Australians are, be it a natural disaster, the downing of a passenger plane on foreign soil, threats to Australia's national security or the myriad other events that have shaped the AFP to be the organisation that it is today.