Woman Etter, Barbara


Police officer

Written by Susan Harwood, Susan Harwood and Associates Quality Consultancy Services; Australasian Council of Women and Policing and Helen McDermott, Australasian Council of Women and Policing

In 2013, former police officer Barbara Etter is applying her considerable skills to developing her own consultancy business as an integrity and justice consultant. However, during her extensive career in policing Etter was described as a role model by many women across Australia for a range of reasons, including her capacity to take on myriad leadership roles, her ability to amass a formidable list of both academic and professional qualifications while undertaking her policing work, and for having her skills recognized outside of policing (Telstra Business Woman of the Year Award Western Australia, 2006).

Brought up in a police family, Barbara joined the NSW Police in 1981 as a 23 year old, after a brief career in pharmacy. She recalls that 'from day one' in her career in policing she wanted to get involved in forensic science work. She commenced her career patrolling the Northern Beaches of Sydney, working from Mona Vale. Barbara refers to this time as being 'great years' and says that later she was able to 'get involved in forensic science work, particularly at a national level' (personal communication). She worked on projects, initially on secondment with the then National Police Research Unit in Adelaide.

Barbara moved jurisdictions several times during her career, first to the Northern Territory in 1988, where she was laterally recruited in 1992. She states that this type of lateral entry 'was very controversial at this time'. From 1989 to 1994 Barbara chaired the Police Commissioners' Policy Advisory Group (PCPAG), which she recognizes gave her considerable exposure to national issues and Commissioners from around Australasia. Along the way Barbara's keen pursuit of academic development included her gaining Honours in Law (1987), an MBA in International Management (1994), and, a Master of Laws in Comparative Law (1999).

After her stint in the Northern Territory, Barbara won the position of Director of the then Australasian Centre for Policing Research (the ACPR) in Adelaide; in so doing she became the first female Director of a National Common Police Service and spent just over five years working on a myriad of high level projects, particularly in the areas of electronic crime and identity crime. In more recent years she again pursued her interest in professional development through her involvement with the Board of Studies of the Australian Institute of Police Management and through Visiting Fellow appointments, as well as lecturing/presenting in various forums on ethics and leadership.

In 2004 Barbara was recruited by Western Australia Police to the role of Assistant Commissioner; it was the first time this policing jurisdiction had appointed a woman to this high rank. Her first appointment was to Professional Development; followed by Traffic and Operations, Strategy and Performance, and Corruption Prevention and Investigation. During her period at WA Police Barbara won the Telstra Business Woman of the Year (2006) and in 2008 she was awarded the Australian Police Medal (APM) in recognition of her distinguished service to policing. Barbara left WA Police in 2010 when she was appointed by the Tasmanian Government to the role of CEO of the Integrity Commission.

Reflecting on her long policing career Barbara describes it as being 'very atypical', given that she worked for three different police agencies as well as at the national level. She regards such mobility as still being 'quite rare'. While describing her time in policing as 'a tremendous career' Barbara states that it was 'not without its challenges'. She considers herself to have been 'very fortunate' to have had a number of significant male mentors during her career, including several Commissioners. She also highlights the importance of having strong family and friend support networks, noting that her life outside policing was rich with interests and activities that brought 'essential balance' to her schedule and mental outlook. Barbara states that in addition to integrity, the three key qualities that assisted her during her policing career include 'a sense of humour, perseverance and well-honed resilience'.

Published Resources

Online Resources

See also