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Copping it sweet

FORMER Leongatha Police and Bass Coast Highway Patrol sergeant Jim Baum said his decades in the force had been a “blessing”.

Jim, who will retire in the coming weeks, has spent 37 years on the beat, with 10 years at Leongatha Police and a further 10 at the Bass Coast Highway Patrol.

He was keen to notch up 40 years in the force, but bowel cancer hijacked those plans. Fortunately, the cancer is in remission now and he is looking forward to a retirement that will see him cruising around on his Harley Davidson and spending a lot more time with his family.

Jim believes an early test saved his life: “Had I not done it, I wouldn’t be here. I’d implore any person to do the test. I had no symptoms or anything, and if I hadn’t tested, in six to 12 months I would have been dead.”

Jim Baum: the retiring local police sergeant has had a rich career in the Force.

But the migrating cancer was not an easy thing to fix and the spectre of it is always with him.

“I did my test early and I was detected early. But that still led to major surgery and chemo treatments and the like. I got on top of that and was really pleased with where I was travelling,” he said.

“But a routine test a couple of years later found a secondary lot of cancer on my liver. That led to more surgery and more chemo.”

The second discovery of cancer proved tougher than the first, and work ambitions were shelved. Shiftwork and the pressures associated with policing had taken their toll, he said.

“The latest testing has been good. I hope it remains that way. But once you have cancer you have it for life. It’s never really far from your mind,” he said.

“It takes you to some dark places and it always will. You say to yourself, ‘I’ve just got to move on with this,’ but I had a blood test yesterday and a cat scan today. That’s a twice a year routine, and it’s a constant reminder.

“I’ve been fortunate to have great support from my loving wife, Helga, and my family. That really is crucial because you certainly need family around you as you go. I know, though, there are blokes out there who won’t do the test. If you get it early you can fix it early.”

Jim will spend his time now focused on being happy and healthy, free from “the stress of a police environment”.

In the time since first being diagnosed, he has “done a lot of soul searching”.

“I’m always one for finding out why things happen, which is why I became a policeman. There’s been a lot of cancers in Leongatha and I came up with more than 30 names within the last 10 years. They were people of varying ages and varying lifestyles,” he said.

“The only answer I came up with was that there is no answer in the end. I don’t know why it strikes certain people. I decided very early on in the piece that I’m not happy about it, but I’d only worry about the things I have control over.

“If I don’t have control, what will be will be. I have to accept that.”

Being part of the force has been an essential and rewarding part of Jim’s life. As any cop will tell you, there are few careers like policing, where life is seen up close and in its rawest forms. For Jim, “having a crack” was always the most important thing and he walks away proud of his commitment to the work.

“I loved being a cop and I never wanted to do anything else. I joined as soon as I could. I loved the variety of it and I loved the thought of every day going to work and not knowing what was going to happen,” he said.

“It’s such a fluid occupation and changing all the time. Right up until the very end I still enjoyed patrolling, for the very reason that you’d never know what job was going to come over the radio and what you were going to find.”

He said he remembers every day, from graduation to the end. Overwhelmingly, he said, it was the people he worked with who made the job so special.

But, as any cop will know, there were dark times.

Jim, originally from Horsham, spent time as a law instructor with now Chief Commissioner and former Korumburra resident Ken Lay, along with stints as an officer at St Kilda, Port Melbourne, Glen Waverly and back in the Wimmera in his home town.

His career defining work began in the Road Accident Research Unit (now known as the Major Crash Investigation Unit).

He was inspired to become part of the unit after the death of a 21 year old woman, killed by a drunk driver.

“She was engaged to be married, a beautiful young woman with hardly a mark on her. I just thought, ‘This is not right,’ From that point on my job direction changed,” he said.

The trauma that flows from road carnage has been a constant source of frustration throughout his life. And Jim has seen the sinister way alcohol can turn people’s worlds upside down.

He said he is not a “wowser” but despairs at the way young people drink to excess, a trend that he believes is escalating year by year. It’s an addiction, he said, that fuels violence, petty crime and, of course, road trauma. Jim emphasises the point that collisions on the road where alcohol is a factor are never “accidents”.

And yet, policing has been a source of joy for Jim too – the daily interaction with other cops and the good people of South Gippsland. He couldn’t care less what the “villains” think of him.

Leongatha has been a special place for Jim and one that welcomed him with open arms.

“I knew nothing about this side of the state whatever. Within three months I’d met lots of really good quality people. Helga and I decided that was it, this was a great place to bring up a family and I had a good chance to have an involvement with the community,” he said.

“Being a policeman in a town like this, the police see the community as theirs and the community see the police as their  police. That was special.

“We’d take crime almost personally, because our kids lived here and we lived here. Even petty crimes we liked to jump on as it happened. You’ve got to be at it all the time. If you let it get away, it’ll get away real quick. It’s just a matter of being assessable.”

Short URL: http://thestar.com.au/?p=7168

Posted by on May 20 2013. Filed under Featured, News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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