2 October 2023

End of an era as Cape York's longest serving police officer hangs up handcuffs

| Matt Nicholls
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John McArthur is presented with the Queensland Police Commissioner’s Certificate of Service by the Far North’s Acting Chief Superintendent Rhys Newton. Senior Sergeant McArthur said he was shocked by the surprise visit.

CAPE York’s longest serving police officer has called it a day, signing off on Friday after a Police Remembrance Day service.

Cooktown’s officer in charge, Senior Sergeant John McArthur has led the local station since 2004, having previously enjoyed stints around the Far North, including Coen, Aurukun, Kowanyama and Normanton.

“I think every police officer should experience the Cape at least once,” he told Cape York Weekly on Monday.

“Everyone has heard about what it’s like to police in the Cape, but unless you’re on the ground you don’t really know what it’s like.

“I don’t think it would hurt to see every recruit do at least six months working in the Cape at some stage.”

For those who know Snr Sgt McArthur, he was happy to retire from Queensland Police Service with as little fanfare as possible.

“Don’t go writing anything too long,” he said, not knowing that his story would end up on page 1.

Unsurprisingly, his colleagues and superiors, as well as community leaders, were happy to speak about his service.

“He’s one of the very good blokes,” said former Weipa officer in charge Brett Jenkins, now the Inspector at the Cassowary Coast.

“John was always big on promoting the Cape as a great place to work for younger officers.”

Acting Chief Superintendent Rhys Newton said his long-time mate and colleague was “one of nature’s gentlemen”.

“John’s professional approach to policing and ability to establish and nurture relationships for community safety had a significant impact for Cooktown police and the community they serve,” he said.

“His ability to manage police service delivery in a country setting was second to none.

‘Highly respected by his colleagues, he positively led policing across the district.

“It was my honour, on behalf of the Commissioner and Police Minister, to attend John’s farewell function in Cooktown and, together with a wonderful gathering of police and community members, thank and congratulate John on his policing career and wish him all the very best for the next stage of life.”

Cook Shire mayor Peter Scott said the Cooktown community owed a great deal of gratitude to Snr Sgt McArthur.

“We’re very proud and very thankful that Cooktown and the shire is such a peaceful and friendly place,” he said.

“A lot of that has got to do with John’s approach to policing.

“He’s very empathetic and understanding.

“He had a real familiarity with the community, which is what happens when you work at one place for so long.

“Peter Williamson, who is the acting Inspector at the moment, said John’s effectiveness could be measured by the fact that even the criminals respect him!”

Cr Scott said the officer in charge would be sorely missed.

“His legacy is here to stay because he’s set a high bar and everybody will try and keep to that standard,” he said.

Cook Shire deputy mayor and colleague Robyn Holmes, also paid tribute to her outgoing “boss” and friend of 18 years.

“His unwavering commitment to the community has been exemplary, along with his expectation that a high level of service delivery be provided with integrity and professionalism,” she said.

“He’s a person who led by example and in doing so gained the respect of his colleagues and the wider community.”

Snr Sgt McArthur might be hanging up his uniform, but he will remain a sworn police officer for some time.

The 57-year-old has worked so hard over the years that he’s accrued enough leave to be able to walk away now and remain on leave until his retirement age of 60.

“They call it pre-retirement leave, which means I’m using up all my leave in one continuous block,” he said.

Born in Mossman, the Far North Queensland product has never ventured too far away.

“I spent a lot of my younger years on the Tablelands because dad moved around a bit as a policeman,” Snr Sgt McArthur said.

“But Cooktown has been home for the last 20 years and I’ve really enjoyed it.”

Cook Shire mayor Peter Scott has paid tribute to John McArthur’s legacy in Cooktown.

However, he said there were challenges to policing in country towns.

“The people you police you see very regularly and you have to have working relationships with them. It doesn’t have to be social, but you have to be able to get along,” he said.

Snr Sgt McArthur said he had seen a big growth in resources since taking on the job in 2004.

“When I got here there were six uniform officers and one plain-clothes officer,” he said.

“We covered the whole region but now we have 10 here in town, four at Hope Vale and a couple in Wujal Wujal.

“There are two detectives and we have a couple of highway patrol officers as well.”

While he’ll remain in town for at least a month or two, Snr Sgt McArthur will retire in the Tablelands.

He said he would leave with fond memories and thanked those who supported him over the journey.

“I’d like to thank the community in general, but especially all of the agencies and service providers that we interact with on an almost-daily basis,” he said.

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