David McGowan grew up watching Division 4, Homicide and Matlock Police. By his late-twenties, he was chasing down Victor Brincat: one of the most prolific bank robbers of all time.
As a plucky 18-year-old, David McGowan was always determined to be a part of the force. First posted to South Melbourne, McGowan would work there for 6 years in a culture he describes as “both rich and poor”.
“It was one of very few stations where trainees were not allowed, and there were only 2 women on a roster of 52 members,” he says.
“The regulations had only just changed allowing women to perform general duties in the beginning of 1980. I was surprised when I started to find out that the unmarked police cars didn’t all have coffee grinder sirens on the bonnet like on TV.”
By 1985, McGowan had made detective and was transferred to Carlton CIB.
“I cut my teeth on house burgs, sex offences and fraud,” he says.
“One of my most notable cases was the Foodplus bombing, where a competitor literally tried to blow up the opposition, and a rogue criminal who successfully passed himself off as an Economics Professor at Melbourne University by adopting the identity of his namesake.”
In 1988, McGowan was invited into the Armed Robbery Squad where he’d stay for over 4 years working on high profile cases including the shootout and arrest of Russell Cox and Ray Denning at Doncaster Shopping Centre, as well as time surrounding the Walsh Street police killings.
McGowan, who says he remembers the day before Walsh Street, says it was a “toss of a coin” whether he went to Narre Warren with other crews to arrest a target, or to a regional prison with another squad member – Paul Mullett (Fish).
“I opted to go with Fish – the other decision would have seen me in the dock with 8 others charged with murder.”
McGowan would go on to capture — and then lose— Victor Brincat, one of the most prolific bank robbers of all time, charged with 19 banks.
He was part of the crew who helped arrest and convict a violent gang who took Gary Dempsey’s mother hostage after a bank hold up in Yarraville, which ended in a shootout with police at Truganina.
“Some days I wondered what I got myself into,” he says.
“Working complex investigations using listening devices, phone taps and surveillance crews was brilliant.
They say the squad was full of hard men, but I mostly found them to be smart, committed and professional.”
McGowan didn’t stray far from the thin blue line following his time in the force, going on to manage employee corruption and establish investigations teams across 31 countries for ANZ.
“It had more general crime there than in Victoria Police,” he says, “think murders, drug trafficking, slavery, gun running, rape, theft, corruption and fraud”.
It wasn’t until McGowan discovered the Peer Support program that his policing journey came full circle.
Following the Eastern Freeway tragedy of April 2020, that caused the death of four police members, McGowan says he was motivated to help. Originally applying for the position of a Veteran Peer Support Officer (VPSO), he soon came across the role of CEO.
It wasn’t long after applying that McGowan had become the leader of the cause.
“It was really interesting to come full circle and return to the police family after so many years,” he says.
“It’s probably the most important job I’ve had and I feel like it was where I was meant to end up.
I hope my legacy is an organisation that looks after all police veterans and recognises the sacrifices and trauma many members have experienced.”
McGowan says what he’s found most profound is the “extent of suffering” across police veterans, noting the “hidden tragedy” it’s become.
“So many police veterans are suffering from the stresses of protecting our society,” he says, “not just here, but across Australia. What we’re doing at PVV is unique in that regard.”
McGowan says PVV in future aims to fund counselling services for those who aren’t covered by workers compensation, and a brokerage fund to cover everyday expenses for those who may need it.
“I’m determined to see police veterans enjoy the same level of support that’s offered to defence veterans”.
“But it’s like the ‘Field of Dreams’,” he says. “Build it, and they will come.”
You can hear David speak more on his history with the police family on The Crime Couch, with Rochelle Jackson: https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-77fap-112a85d?utm_campaign=au_share_ep&utm_medium=dlink&utm_source=au_share