LEADING Senior Constable Mark Stevens remembers when police files on the state's most dangerous criminals were kept in rooms full of filing cabinets.
"Back then we had to manually go around in filing cabinets and get cards out and bits of paper, which is probably a bit foreign to most people," he said.
Leading Senior Constable Stevens will retire from Victoria Police at the end of this week, and reflected on a long career which began in 1982.
"I did my training at South Melbourne and went to what is now the Road Policing and Drug Testing Section and did a month there," he said.
"I did a month at Communications D24, a month at Highway Patrol, and a month at the information bureau where intelligence kept on all the people in the state. I came up here on the 22nd of June 1986."
Leading Senior Constable Stevens met an Ararat girl, whom he married, and the pair ended up staying.
"I've been here ever since. I came to Highway Patrol here - which was called the Traffic Operations Group - until '88 and then I did about 18 months general duties, then went back to Highway Patrol.
"Then in 2004 there was a promotion opportunity to Leading Senior Constable so I came back to general duties, and went back to Highway Patrol in 2010 and here I am."
Baby boomers may remember the shock of seeing a police officer leaning out of a vehicle window with a handheld speed radar, but Leading Senior Constable Stevens said he has watched technology upgrades change the way Highway Patrol operated, with slick modern equipment and even air-conditioning added to the cars.
"The youngsters will probably blink at this but the cars had no air-conditioning, there was no radio, no power steering, and no handy lock braking systems or traction control and all the stuff they've got now," he said.
"We had an old hand-held radar in the car and that was it," he said. "You've got everything in there now, including computers that tell us when a car is unregistered without us having to do anything."
Ararat Station Commander Senior Sergeant Rob Weppner has worked with Leading Senior Constable Stevens for 23 years, and described him as a central figure in the community.
"It's probably two generations he would have dealt with. From the 80s he's dealt with community members and now he's dealing with their children," he said. "You hear people in the community talking about him in high regard. They all know Mark Stevens."
Senior Sergeant Weppner said he had never seen Leading Senior Constable Stevens have a cross word with anyone.
"We know him to be fair, reasonable, and I've never seen him upset. He loves his community and loves trying to make it safe."
Senior Sergeant Weppner also said that community members felt comfortable around Leading Senior Constable Stevens.
"He's a bit of a go to person as well," he said.
"It might be 'there's something wrong with my car' or 'what's this new road rule?' He'll be able to sit down and tell them what the rule is. This happens off-duty; they're comfortable around him."
Even more tellingly, Leading Senior Constable Stevens has earned the respect of people typically at odds with the police.
"I was up the street the other day," Senior Sergeant Weppner said. "I was off-duty and Mark was too and we just both happened to be standing in line at the supermarket when another member of the community comes in that Mark and I both know.
"This person has had contact with the police over the years but the respect that Mark has (was evident) when this person called him sir, which was how it used to be in the 80s and 90s.
"That probably spoke volumes for me, and I'm saying 'Mark, that's how respected you are in the community.' He's a really genuine, caring member who has had a fantastic career."
Leading Senior Constable Stevens said he didn't make the decision to retire lightly.
"I've seen a lot of stuff that a lot of people haven't, and won't, and wouldn't like if they did," he said.
"Since the start of 2016 I've been to probably nine fatalities. That sort of got me thinking a bit - I've soaked up a lot of trauma and I don't know how much more I can soak up without it affecting me."
But he didn't want that to discourage others from what he called a "fantastic" career.
"Go for it, because there's that many more opportunities now than when I joined," he said.
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