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Feature image collage - Commander Sandra Booth

AFP Leaders – Commander Sandra Booth

When Commander Sandra Booth left school, she wanted to be one of two things – a sailor, or a police officer. Her parents weren't too keen on her carrying a gun, so she decided to join the Australian Navy. 

"I don't think Dad really thought through defence weapons training," she laughs.

But in 2000, she ended her naval career and joined the Australian Federal Police, swapping the whites for the blues. In the two decades since, Commander Booth's career has spanned from City Beats in ACT Policing, representing the AFP and Australia in one of Australia's busiest offshore posts in Jakarta, Indonesia, to recently establishing a new Counter Terrorism Command - Enduring Risk Investigations.

We sat down with Commander Booth to talk about her journey in the AFP.

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

The AFP is in a constant state of change.

We are fortunate to have been able to prove our agility regularly -as an agency we can adapt quickly to emerging threats and environments and lean into new problems without pause. When I joined the AFP in 2000, little was understood publicly about the organisation, but that has significantly changed. Much of what we do today is topical, and at times also controversial, this puts us at the centre of the media cycle and public consciousness.

Our contributions domestically and internationally have shown the breadth of what the organisation undertakes, but we never do it alone - we are privilegedto hold long-standing strong trusted relationships domestically and globally with traditional and non-traditional partners. Specialist capabilities have been rapidly deployed to tragic events like the Bali Bombings, Boxing Day Tsunami and the downing of MH17, front line policing assistance to our pacific partners in the Solomon Islands and East Timor, in addition to building a leading competitive edge against organised crime and those that would cause the community harm through terrorism. We are an agency with broad responsibilities, which provides us with the ability as individuals within the AFP to be exposed to many different aspects of policing.

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

There are so many...

Being promoted to Commander as a working mother of three young children in the Counter Terrorism (CT) command in April 2019 is a stand out for me. Followed by the opportunity to establish the CT Enduring Risk Investigations Command in May 2020, in recognition of the enduring risk posed by High Risk Terrorist Offenders as an additional and specialised stream of counter terrorism policing.

In 2016, I was fortunate to join 221 police leaders from across the US and the globe in participating in the FBI National Academy Course 266 at Quantico, Virginia USA. Being able to submerse myself in an environment designed for leaders from around the world and learn from their personal experiences in a culture of sharing was incredible. It showed me investment in self is incredibly important - a valuable lesson I think we all need at times.

Every promotion throughout my career has resonated ­ - Sergeant, Superintendent, Commander. Gaining my detectives designation was an incredibly proud moment and that led to the opportunity to become a Senior Investigating Officer.

Each step of my career has offered an opportunity to be challenged by my peers and to grow as a leader.

In 2012, I was deployed to Jakarta, Indonesia as an AFP Senior Liaison Officer working closely with the Indonesian National Police in a high risk transnational crime environment, which included collaboration on counter terrorism policing, people smuggling, organised crime and sex offending.  The opportunity to represent not only the AFP, but the Australian government in a foreign country is a privilege, and a professional and personal opportunity which gave my family and I the privilege of experiencing and working in a foreign country. My eldest son was five when we left Jakarta and he still remembers the country, its people and his friends fondly. The AFP offers such a broad range of opportunities for its members.

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

Understanding the role and reach of the AFP and the impact we have domestically and internationally.

I have often found people are unaware we operate in all Australian capital cities and international in 33 offshore posts. The spread of our organisation and the ability our members have to engage with partners globally provides us with diversity in thought and approach to operational issues. Through partnerships, we work together to disrupt innovative criminal syndicates, and terrorist networks, build capabilities and assist with regional stability. This also provides us with a rich growth environment where we are able to share and learn with others, adapting faster and better together to new trends and technologies.

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

The AFP's has and will continue to undergo evolution to meet the needs of today and into the future. Encryption, cyber-attacks, technology and the globalization of crime pose an ongoing threat to national security and a rise in the complexity of serious crime.
COVID-19 itself has shown that environmental factors can open up new vulnerabilities which criminals can and will exploit.  Policing truly is a profession where one day is different to the next and our challenge is always going to be in identifying the next.

What are you most proud of in your career?

Tough question! It's not individual investigations / projects / promotions etc. I am most proud of the people who surround me every day – smart, driven people who are tireless in their resolve to combat criminal activity.

It's through this team commitment that great things are achieved. Being part of that and being surrounded by determination and innovation over a 20 year career has to be the highlight.