SATURDAY will mark an emotional and fitting end to a sensational police career for Mildura police Officer in Charge, Senior Sergeant Stephen Phelan, PICTURED.
‘Stork’ – as he is affectionately known about town – will officially retire Saturday (well for a second time – more on that later!) after nearly 40 years on the beat.
“For me the uniqueness of policing comes from the variety of work, the variety of locations, and the variety of shifts,” he said. “While policing often involves confrontation, I have made very few enemies over my career. The trick is to not take it personally – it’s just a job.
“I enjoyed catching crooks ‘on the hop’, meaning as they were committing offences such as burglary or theft of motor vehicle, and I still enjoy mixing with members of Victoria Police.
“The level of dedication and passion at Mildura Police Station is impressive – and it’s certainly something I’ll miss.”
Stork first joined Victoria Police as a cadet on January 31, 1978, before graduating on March 14, 1980. He was ordained ‘Stork’ at the Police Academy, due mainly to a ‘highly irregular’ height to weight ratio (189cm to 75kg).
Policing, as it turns out, runs in Stork’s family, with his grandfather, Jim Phelan, a member from 1929 to 1944, his father, Barry Phelan, a member from 1956 to 1989, and even his brother, Paul Phelan, is a copper, and is currently an Inspector at Horsham.
“My son, Jack, was also a member for five years, but eventually gave way to his long-held passion for farming,” Stork said.
Stork’s initial reasons for joining VicPol, however, weren’t solely based on his family history.
“I had various part-time jobs while I was at school… I also worked at a factory bagging cement during school holidays,” he said. “It was a hard, dirty and mind-numbing job.
“As I was nearing the end of Form 5 (now Year 11), I told my father that I was leaving school. He agreed to the proposal – but only after I secured a decent job.
“In those days, Victoria Police ran a Police Cadet Program – it was effectively a police apprenticeship. I applied for the program and was camping on the Murray at Tocumwal when my father advised me that I had been accepted.”
Stork eventually returned to Mildura on June 22, 1983, and was promoted to Sergeant on October 18, 1993.
“In the early days, policing was seriously under-funded,” he said. “The outcome was poor infrastructure, poor equipment and a lack of numbers on the ground.
“However, this environment built a camaraderie that I valued enormously. Although today’s police officers are better equipped and supported, the ever-increasing demands on performance and accountability have dramatically increased the workload and pressure on our officers.”
After nearly 21 years on the Force, Stork made the decision to step away, and on September 1, 2000, he resigned from Victoria Police.
“I had begun to feel disengaged,” he said. “I had been policing since I was 17, and was desperately in need of a change.
“My diminished tolerance for policing was becoming obvious, and it was unfair to subject our junior members to my frequent rants about where the Force was headed.
“I have always loved the outdoors and hunting, so on September 1, 2000, I parted ways with Victoria Police to work as a professional shooter. I continued in this role until one of the worst droughts in local history.
“In my time away from Victoria Police it never really crossed my mind to return. However, this changed when I bumped into an old colleague who asked me if I’d considered coming back.
“That started the ‘wheels turning’, and by April 2004 I had returned – firstly as Senior Constable at Mildura, then as a Sergeant at Robinvale before returning to Mildura as a Sergeant in 2006.
“In 2009, I was promoted to Senior Sergeant in charge of the station. My time away recharged my batteries. I had regained the passion I had when I first joined in 1978.”
Stork said that during his time, he had watched Victoria Police become a more professional outfit in areas such as IT, intelligence gathering and welfare.
“However, the level of respect afforded by crooks continues to decline, and has resulted in a dangerous gameplay that impacts on the entire community,” he said. “I expect this has a lot to do with escalating drug use in the community.”
Mildura Police Inspector John Nolan was full of praise for the departing Senior Sergeant, and wished Stork the best in his retirement.
“The community of Mildura is indebted to Stork for his commitment and proficiency in the role of OIC. He leaves big shoes to fill,” he said.
Insp. Nolan said Stork left a lasting legacy, and some important lessons for the next generation of police officers to live by.
“There are six key things that we can all learn from Stork,” he said. “Laughter is a universal language – make sure you become proficient.
“Say what you mean – not what you think someone would like to hear. While policing is a serious business, it can be a hostile place for those that take themselves too seriously.
“Create opportunities to mix with the broader community – there is life outside the police force – and hold no grudges.”