When Shane Brundell was working part-time at the bank in the mid-1980s, once a fortnight he would see police members come in to cash their paycheck.
At the time he was studying accountancy and the old Victoria Police forensic science building was located next door to his part-time job in Melbourne’s Spring Street.
“I got chatting to them about some of their jobs and it sort of resonated with me about how interesting a job they had compared to me in the bank,” the now Bendigo police inspector said.
It was a conversation that would become the start of a more than 30-year career in the police force, with Inspector Brundell and another bank colleague applying to Victoria Police.
He graduated as a 19-year-old in January 1987 and started his career in his hometown of Broadmeadows, saying it wasn’t uncommon to get anywhere between 20 and 30 jobs in an eight-hour shift.
The busy station provided a good learning curve for the then constable, with exposure to a range of facets of policing, responding to jobs that included family violence, street assaults and “burgs”.
It was this exposure that lead Inspector Brundell to pursue a career in crime investigation, starting with the drug squad before sitting the exam to become a detective in the early 1990s.
“There was a lot more responsibility and accountability as a detective,” he said.
“You worked long, you worked hard but you worked as a team and achieved some really really good results.”
He spent five years as a detective senior constable in Melbourne’s northern suburbs, investigating everything from sexual offences to home invasions.
“You just kick into a sense that everything you do is for the victim,” Inspector Brundell said.
“I fundamentally see my role and any police as we are here to advocate and support and be the voice for victims. That’s what policing is about.”
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This desire to help victims and their families further motivated the police officer during his ten years at the homicide squad working in the missing persons unit, first as a detective senior constable in the ’90s and later as a detective sergeant in the early-2000s.
“That was a really really interesting field to be in – just the sense of achievement of helping a family.”
It was a job that involved living out of suitcases as the team “followed every rabbit down every hole” to bring families answers.
“Just the efforts you would go to to solve those particular jobs was fantastic investigations to be involved in,” Inspector Brundell said. “And really rewarding at the end of the day when you were able to get the result and the outcome for the family.”
Inspector Brundell said the cases at the missing persons unit were like working on murder mysteries.
“It’s like someone’s come in with a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle, thrown all the pieces up in the air and they haven’t left you the template as to what the picture looks like,” he said.
“So you’ve then got to find all the pieces and you've got to put all the pieces together to get the full picture – that’s what a missing persons investigation is like.”
He said there were many cases that ended up on his desk after tireless pushing on behalf of families and his advice for people in similar situations was to not give up.
“Never give up. Keep pushing,” he said. “Keep looking for answers.”
“That still sits with me as a really gut-wrenching job,” Inspector Brundell said of the day he and his team discovered the body of 20-month-old Gracie Sharpe at the Mornington Transfer Station.
“I had young girls at the time so to carry her body up... was pretty horrific. You talk about something that sticks with me, that’s probably one.”
Inspector Brundell said everyone was different in how they dealt with the horrors that came with the job. For him, a combination of support both at home and work helped with what they saw.
“Everyone has got their tipping point,” he said. “And everyone’s tipping point is made up of their whole life experience. I haven’t reached mine yet.”
When the missing persons unit was disbanded in the mid-2000s, Inspector Brundell moved into the sex crimes squad, followed by time spent at the Macedon Ranges crime investigation unit and Victoria Police’s Professional Standards Command investigating corruption inside the force.
In late December last year, Inspector Brundell made the move to Bendigo, picking up the local area commander role for the city.
For the past eight months, he’s spent a lot of time watching and listening from both a community perspective and internally.
In January a volume crime strategy was rolled out, helping to curb a rise in offences such as stolen vehicles, burglaries and thefts from cars.
“We’ve been able to stop that and slow it, but we’re only one part to the solution,” Inspector Brundell said, calling for people to continue to report information to Crime Stoppers.
“If we don’t know about it we can’t do anything about it,” he said.
“Policing can only do so much but we really need the community to come along for the ride as well. They’re just as big a stakeholder in having a safe Bendigo.”
Going forward, his goal is to work with the community and other partner agencies to develop proactive strategies to further reduce crime.
“But to do that we need to find some supports and strategies around the people that are committing the crime too. They go hand in hand.” he said.
“If we can look at ways to better support those people to break the cycle, to prevent the crime, to then have less victims, and to have a safer community within Bendigo, that’s where I’d like to take it.”