Former Mandurah cop welcomes redress scheme after lengthy fight

A former Mandurah police officer, forced to retire from duty after experiencing horrific acts of violence, has welcomed the police redress scheme opening for applications.

James Yates, 64, spent four of his 10 years working as an officer in Mandurah, and was forced to retire after developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

In the line of duty, Mr Yates was stabbed with a syringe, bitten and bashed on multiple occasions.

The Dudley Park resident wrote a memoir of his experiences in 9370, outlining the deterioration of his mental health and frustrations with the West Australian Police Department and the state government, including being “dishonorably discharged” under Section 8 of the police act.

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“Section 8 is used for corrupt police officers that deserve firing, but we use the same process for medically injured police officers,” he said. 

“The government has finally acknowledged it needs to change and I believe legislative changes are happening in the new year.”

The redress offers a maximum $150,000 individual payment for medically retired officers.

WA is the only state in the country without a compensation scheme for police officers injured on the job.

James Yates

Mr Yates, who is also secretary of the Medically Retired Western Australian Police Officers Association, said at least 10 retired Mandurah officers were eligible for compensation.

The association had been campaigning for change for the past 10 years.

“It’s been a long battle,” Mr Yates said. 

“No other state has offered a redress to police officers so it’s very historical. 

“The government have finally acknowledged they could have done better.”

He was wild – high on meth and it was literally a fight for my life.

James Yates

On top of this, officers will be given a Western Australian Police Star Medal and have their dishonorable discharges reversed.

“To some of the guys, they were more thrilled to get that than the sum of money,” he said.  

But, Mr Yates said it was not compensating the “loss of career, earnings, pain or suffering” and there was still more to be addressed. 

“WA is the only state in the country without a compensation scheme for police officers injured on the job,” he said.  

“It is a legal requirement to offer employees worker’s compensation, but some obscure ancient law says police officers are employees of the Queen, and not employees of the state.

“All bills incurred after a police officer is discharged are out of their own pocket.

He tried to grab my gun then stabbed me with a syringe three times to my hand and bit my forearm, drawing blood.

James Yates

“Police Minister Michelle Roberts said she would look at this after the redress – she understands it needs to be changed.

“It will have to be a specifically tailored one for police because it is a very dangerous job and lots of people get injured.”

A panel chaired by former Police Commissioner Karl O'Callaghan will assess the redress applications, which close on April 8, and the first payments will be dispersed in July. 

Minister Roberts said the government had committed to providing recognition and acknowledging the past treatment of medically retired former officers, before coming into office. 

"Over the past several months, the panel has been busy consulting with medically retired officers and the WA Police Union,” she said. 

"We've aimed to make the process of applying as straightforward as possible and I encourage those who want to make an application to jump on the website for further information.

"I am pleased to be able to provide some recognition to officers medically retired due to a workplace injury or illness.”

‘Fight for my life’

Mr Yates said everyday could present a new issue in the police force, but three consecutive instances “tipped him over the edge”. 

“One minute you could be joking with your partner and the next, you could be fighting for your life,” he said. 

“There were so many, that’s why I wrote a book.”

One incident saw Mr Yates fighting for his life at Pinjarra Train Station when attempting to arrest a man with a “horrific, extensive and violent criminal history”, who was on the run. 

“We had been tipped off he would be saying goodbye to his girlfriend at the station,” he said.

“We surprised him and he tried to grab my gun then stabbed me with a syringe three times to my hand and bit my forearm, drawing blood. 

“He was wild – high on meth and it was literally a fight for my life.

“I had a realisation that I wasn’t invincible and I could die.”

The six-month wait for AIDS testing in those days meant Mr Yates could not have relations with his wife and had to be careful around other people and his children.

In another instance, Mr Yates was approached by a knife-wielding man attempting “suicide by cop”.

“The guy came very close to me with a knife – he wanted an officer to kill him so he didn’t have to do it himself,” he said. 

“I would have shot him but he stopped and sliced himself open with a knife.

“Luckily he didn’t die from his injuries and I didn’t have to shoot him.”

‘I couldn’t function’

Mr Yates said his PTSD presented by becoming overly security conscious and anxious, even being unable to enter a police station. 

“I was on edge, angry, negative and became a hermit,” he said. 

“I couldn’t function anymore.”

Admitting you needed help as an officer was seen as a sign of weakness. 

“I didn’t even know what I had,” Mr Yates said.

“They didn’t do a good job informing you about PTSD and the symptoms or how it affects you.”

Mr Yates used alcohol to cope, and eventually, his marriage fell apart. 

“It got to the point when I came close to suicide,” he said. 

“Many of the officers who can’t work anymore lose their houses, marriages or become alcoholics.”

The department paid for his psychology visits and Mr Yates took 18 months off work.

“I wanted to go back to work but I couldn’t even put on the uniform, it would just trigger anxiety,” he said. 

After a long battle, Mr Yates said he is managing his PTSD and has been able to come off medication.