Officer makes a safer world for children

Ellie Honeybone, SOUND TELEGRAPHSound Telegraph

Port Kennedy resident Sergeant Richard Wells spent almost eight years in regional WA working with indigenous communities to ensure children were safe and respected.

Sgt Wells has been with the WA Police for more than 18 years and has spent much of that time working closely with youth from lower socio-economic backgrounds or who have problems with substance abuse.

He said he took up a position a few years ago in Laverton and from there he became the first officer in charge of the police facility in the Burringurrah Aboriginal community, 1063km north of Perth.

"It was an incredibly beautiful community, but I noticed there was a lot of over-sexualised and antisocial behaviour among children," he said.

"We identified that we needed to help them form protective behaviours and become aware of how they needed to respect themselves.

"The children often struggled with learning through traditional forms, so we decided to look at the way they learnt indigenous history and culture, which was through storytelling, art and song and dance."

Sgt Wells enlisted the help of a songwriter and found external funding to produce the Boss of My Body music video.

"The video was fantastic, the children were able to participate and they really enjoyed the experience," he said.

"We made bright yellow T-shirts for them to wear and the people soon learnt to know which children knew what was right and what was wrong just from their clothes and they would leave them alone." The project brought about awareness within the local community by showing the children's perspective on the often hidden issue of child abuse.

Children came forward with their stories, allowing those around to support them and seek assistance to ensure their continued wellbeing into the future.

Sgt Wells said he had to overcome the community's distrust of police and authority, break down barriers and source funding in a tough financial environment to ensure the project became a reality.

"It was worth the effort as the DVD has now spread across Australia and is recognised in various countries around the world as it continues to flourish," he said.

"The Department of Education uses it in training and we used it to help with the Royal Commission into Institutionalised Child Sexual Abuse."

The project has been recognised with a number of awards, including Sgt Wells receiving a Constable Care Award and acknowledgement from the Australian Institute of Criminology.

More recently, on November 6, the 2015 Regional Achievement and Community Awards were announced and he was presented with the Horizon Power leadership award. The leadership award is given to those who display dedication, selflessness and leadership qualities and to people who are a driving force in their community.

"I was not expecting to win - I was very surprised and honoured to receive the recognition," he said. Sgt Wells recently moved to Port Kennedy with his family and now works at the police headquarters in Perth.

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