The Queensland Police Service (QPS) is sharing the journeys of some of their officers to help inspire young Queenslanders to take a closer look at law when considering their potential careers.
Senior Constable Peta Radnidge has what you could call a very ‘explosive’ job. She is one of six QPS Forensic Ballistic Officers.
Peta’s main day-to-day work involves collecting, studying and analysing evidence related to ammunition and firearms.
Peta said a large component of her job is examining weapons and categorising them according to the Weapons Act. This will then determine the types of charges that will be laid against an offender.
“My brain is filled with all of the different types of weapons,” Peta said.
“We’ve had instances where a weapon has been used in one offence and then another. It then comes in to us for categorisation and we’ve been able to link the firearms to both offences.
“We also do a lot of laboratory based work where we will fire into the projectile tank, also known as the bullet recovery tank.
“We’ll shoot the weapon into the tank of water, the projectile then goes through water and settles at the bottom of the tank. You are then able to obtain a perfect rifling on the projectile from the firearm.
“The projectile is then entered onto the Australian Ballistics Information Network, which is a database of firearm casings and projectiles that compares exhibits entered to existing exhibits Australia wide.
Peta firing into the projectile tank. While every instinct would be to close your eyes, QPS officers are trained to keep their eyes open when firing a weapon.
“It’s almost like fingerprints in that way. We’ll send it away and it will come back with a number of possibilities.
“If something is a possible match, then we’ll look at them side by side under a microscope to determine if in fact this is a match. This then allows us to link the same weapon that has been used in multiple offences.
“A job can last for one or more days. It’s not just as simple as ‘yep, that’s the gun used in this crime’. There’s a lot of testing and experimentation.
“We also attend shooting scenes to determine what has happened. We look at angles, ricochets, where the casings are and where the projectiles are found.
“A lot of the time, it’s not a case of a weapon being fired and the projectile going from point A to point B. It may have ricocheted and gone elsewhere. It’s a puzzle we have to put together.
“We do a lot of follow-up experiments. Sometimes this involves shooting objects including gels and the odd rack of pork in order to make a determination in relation to wound ballistic penetrations. I’ve worked with fellow officers on a number of high profile cases that are still on-going.”
When asked if her job is anything like what is depicted in popular crime scene shows, she says “Oh I don’t watch them, I’m a Marvel fan!”
There are six officers in the QPS Ballistics team as well as an Officer in Charge. When Peta took up the role in August 2016, she became the first female Ballistics officer in the QPS.
She spent a few years working in General Duties then went to Scenes of Crime for 18 months. While she was there, she attended quite a few firearm-related jobs and got the chance to see what the Ballistics Unit do.
Peta holds a Bachelor of Science in Biotechnology, Honours in Organic Chemistry and a PhD in Chemical Engineering. After joining the job, she also completed a Bachelor of Policing in which she did some Scenes of Crime units, helping to ignite her passion for this work.
In the journey to justice, the role of a ballistics officer is to report on their findings neutrally. It’s an unbiased opinion. For Peta, her greatest sense of accomplishment is to work out the puzzle.
Her advice for people interested in a career in Ballistics is to determine if you really do enjoy it first.
“The training is over six years long with a lot of assignments, followed by many hours in continuing education every year,” Peta said.
“But it’s an amazing job that constantly challenges the mind.”