A one-of-a-kind version of the best-selling Suzuki Swift is winning new friends in the ongoing fight by Victoria Police. We join the beat behind the wheel of Australia’s only Swift police car.
With its cool styling, great performance and exceptional reliability, Suzuki’s best-selling car – the Swift – has won fans around the world. Now the Swift is gaining a new legion of supporters in Melbourne’s south-eastern suburbs as the new face of the Victoria Police Multicultural Liaison Unit (MLU).
The Dandenong-based unit took delivery of a fully-marked Swift Sport police car, complete with sirens and flashing lights, as a key factor in its quest to assist numerous migrants and refugees within the area.
“Being proactive and getting out among the people to advise them of the work police are doing is much better than reacting once problems have arisen,” explains Sergeant Joe Herrech.
The MLU is responsible for liaising with various community and religious leaders within their region. The unit’s aim is to actively promote and maintain a harmonious relationship – based on mutual understanding, respect, tolerance and trust – between the police and Victoria’s culturally diverse communities. All three members of the MLU are bicultural and can converse in languages other than English.
The unit is eternally grateful for the generosity of Booran Suzuki in Dandenong for the donation of the Suzuki Swift Sport.
“The Swift has played a big part in helping change people’s attitude towards the role of police. Not only is it a great looking little machine, it’s completely different to the cars people usually associate with police,” says Herrech.
“It was a fantastic gesture by Steve Cadden and the team at Booran Suzuki. Their generous donation has helped lift the profile of the work we do here.
“Ultimately, the Swift has been very important in helping us engage the people who live in the area.”
But that’s not to say the job of communicating with the locals is an easy one for staff involved.
Senior Constable Herrech thought he understood refugees well enough, having been a multicultural police officer for about a year. However, during a routine presentation at a language school, his emotions were put to the test.
“One African lady was so frightened, she cried. We sat down and talked. She told me that her husband had been in the military. When war broke out, rebel forces sought experienced men. They forced him to join the rebellion in another village, and if he refused they threatened to slaughter others in his own village. The lady’s husband refused, and within a few weeks he was dead.”
Herrech is one of only 15 Multicultural Liaison Officers (MLO) across Victoria and one of three in Region 5, which takes in Australia’s most densely populated refugee havens.
Along with team members Senior Constable Kemal Brkic and Senior Constable Maha Sukkar, the trio aims to make the lives of new settlers a little easier, which is quite a challenge when their work takes in an area encompassing more than 150 different nationalities and dialects.
In his quest to try to understand the trauma suffered by the people he deals with, Herrech travelled to Sudan a couple of years ago to work in the refugee camps. His job was to prepare Africa’s dispossessed thousands for the nation they were headed for – a nation where police are intended to be friends rather than foes.
For seven days, Herrech lived with some 40,000 Sudanese refugees in Kenyan camps. He says the experience was like taking a walk in their shoes.
“Since arriving back from Africa, I’ve not complained about life in Victoria. Paramilitary guards patrolled the refugee camp. To those guards, upholding the law meant shooting transgressors. That sort of experience makes it hard for refugees to relate to authority figures, such as the Victoria Police.”
That is where the Suzuki Swift comes into play.
“People associate the Swift with good times and fun, making it vital in our role to promote harmony, identify at-risk people, organise soccer and basketball matches, liaise with the Department of Immigration, and to speak to newcomers in a way that shows the police uniform is a sign of safety, not suffering,” says Herrech.
“People see our team as the face of police here in this area. Behind the wheel of the Swift, it gives us a happy, smiling aura that people around here are quickly learning is a good thing.”