Our friends at SA Police proudly announced Senior Constable Gary Wills as the 2023 South Australia Police Officer of the Year, awarded for ongoing support of young people north of Adelaide.
The annual award is coordinated and presented by the Rotary Club of Unley on behalf of the wider community, and highlights quality service provided by individual police officers.
Commissioner Grant Stevens congratulated Senior Constable Wills on his award and recognised his ongoing work with Gawler’s Blue Rose Project.
“This award acknowledges police officers who have demonstrated exemplary courtesy, courage, kindness, understanding, compassion and devotion to duty in the eyes of the community,” he said.
“It recognises an outstanding and committed police officer who has created trust with countless young people in the northern community and encouraged many to turn their lives around.”
Senior Constable Wills has dedicated 31 years working as a police officer, first in The Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUCGC) in Northern Ireland, before moving to South Australia in March 2008.
Now based at Gawler, the 59 year old was proud to become an Australian citizen in January 2015, achieving a life-long dream.
“In all honesty, I was a wannabe Aussie for years and years. I’d never been, but I liked what Australia was about,” Senior Constable Wills said.
“I flew over to London to do SAPOL’s entrance exam and thought I had no chance, and told my wife Janice not to buy the sunscreen, but fortunately I came through.
“All I knew about South Australia was what I’d seen of Adelaide Oval from watching The Ashes, and I thought it looked pretty good to me.
“To now be named South Australia Police Officer of the Year has blown me away, and never in my wildest dreams did I think this would happen. I was actually nominated for a similar award back in Northern Ireland, which I thought would be the pinnacle of my career, but this is off the charts.”
Before moving to Australia, Senior Constable Wills worked during ‘The Troubles’ – a euphemism for a 30-year-long violent conflict that took thousands of lives in Northern Ireland from about 1968 to 1998.
As the province moved out of conflict with the implementation of the Peace Process, Senior Constable Wills worked in this changing policing landscape up until he left in March 2008.
“My family certainly embraced the move (to Australia) and I was first based at Elizabeth where my daughter, Carly, works as a police officer today,” he said.
“My son-in-law is also in the service, so we are a policing family.”
Senior Constable Wills has worked frontline since coming to South Australia, at Elizabeth, Gawler, back to Elizabeth briefly working alongside his daughter, and then a nine-year stint at Two Wells.
A health scare in 2020 involving an emergency triple bypass saw Senior Constable Wills return to policing at Gawler, where he now leads a special assignment.
Since 2021, a pilot project surrounding youth intervention in the Gawler area has bloomed, reducing the number of local missing person’s reports involving young people by around 62 per cent.
“Blue Rose isn’t a job, it’s a goal. Out of my 31 years of service I have had more rewards in the past two years from seeing results of the project,” Senior Constable Wills said.
“It is about listening to these young people, hearing what their problems are and teaching them how to problem solve.
“I’ve developed many relationships with young people and the real reward is when you have someone who doesn’t become a statistic.”
Gawler Rotarian Brian Burt considered Senior Constable Wills a worthy recipient.
“Gary is held in high regard by his peers, superiors, Department for Child Protection members, educators, the wider Gawler and districts communities and, in particular, the young and vulnerable people of the community,” he said.
“He has the rare knack of being able to defuse dangerous and difficult situations and to encourage and mentor young people.”
Senior Constable Wills thanked his family, partner agencies, own authorities, local community and young people who make his policing more than a job, but a passion.
A ceremony was held earlier today at the Royal Adelaide Show where Senior Constable Wills was presented with the honourable title by the Rotary Club of Unley’s President John Peacham and District 9510 Governor Craig Dowling, along with Commissioner Grant Stevens.
Please join us in wishing him congratulations on this honour!