bmag Brisbane Person of the Year candidate Sergeant Jim Bellos is the police sergeant who brings communities together.
If Sergeant Jim Bellos was to have an anthem, it would be Billy Joel’s A Matter of Trust. “Some of these people have seen terrible things and they’re very suspicious,” he says as we make our way through the warren of cubicles in the Multicultural Development Association building at Woolloongabba.
Bellos is cross cultural liaison officer with the Queensland Police Service, the man charged with building bridges between the 200 different ethnic communities speaking 150 languages that are scattered throughout the southern Brisbane region. He’s just finished giving a presentation to a group of refugees, reinforcing the message that the uniform is not to be feared. “You’ve seen some bad things – bribes, corruption – but the police service is here to help you,” he tells them.
The son of Greek migrants, Bellos grew up in West End and joined the police service in 1991. Now the father of three teenage daughters, he was already married and working in a service station when he met a police inspector who became a friend and suggested he join the Police Service. Looking for security for his young family at the time, he began a career path that would lead to being named Queenslander of the Year in 2009 and a finalist for the 2013 Australian of the Year award. He has been cross cultural liaison officer since 2005 and he admits it was a tough role until he gained people’s confidence.
“I took a lot of advice from the leaders in the Muslim community. They took me to mosques and community centres and introduced me. I went to every function and it was hard work for the first two years,” he recalls. Kerrin Benson, CEO of the Multicultural Development Association, says “what you see is what you get. [Bellos is] genuinely interested in people.
He represents that old school policing by actually engaging with people and talking about issues. He’s very keen to help people and he’s at all the community functions, which is important. Once people get to know you, it’s a key to building trust. “For a lot of these people, the police have been the people who knocked on the door, took your husband away and you never saw him again,” she says.
One of the ways Bellos has found to bridge the gap, particularly with the African community, has been with the universal language of football. “We called it the QPS World Cup. It started with seven teams and only five turned up on the day in 2005. This year we had 56 teams and now we call it the Community Shield.”
Not surprisingly Bellos is on call 24/7. “Someone might have been arrested, there’s been domestic violence, there’s been a sexual assault. Who do they go to? They come to me. A lot of the stuff that comes through is sad but I think what I do is very meaningful,” he says. Former Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson wholeheartedly agrees and describes Bellos as a dynamo.
“I think his work has been outstanding and I was fortunate to have someone like Jim in the police department. He’d be the first to acknowledge he wouldn’t have achieved what he has without the support he received from the department. And I think the support we’ve had from the communities has been incredible. We’ve got a lot to feel quietly happy about,” Atkinson says.
Bellos maintains close links with six ethnic schools as part of his bridge building program and began a Student of the Month program at all the schools, presenting a badge which reads “sponsored by Queensland Police”. “The kids are proud to wear that but we had to break down a lot of barriers before we could go into the Murri Aboriginal school and produce a badge that says that,” he says.
Bellos has built up a wide network of contacts and uses them to help the communities which have come to rely on him. “There was a young Muslim boy who was almost on death’s door. He was a soccer fan so I organised for some players from Brisbane Roar to visit him and present him with a jersey. His condition improved; he was discharged from hospital and now he’s a happy, healthy student.
“Then there was a young Sudanese boy who crashed his car, was badly injured and not expected to survive. We organised a challenge game between an African 11 and the Brisbane Roar and raised $3500 for his medical expenses.” Bellos is often asked, he says, how he can sleep at night when he hears so many harrowing stories. “I train every day, I eat well, I don’t drink alcohol and I’m up at four o’clock in the morning every day and I think that eliminates stress because I sleep quite well,” he says.
• 2013 People of Australia Ambassador (POAA)
• Finalist for the Local Hero category for 2013 Australian of the Year Awards
• Winner Queensland’s Local Hero for 2013 Australian of the Year Awards
• Winner 2010 Life Church Day of Honour Award for community service
• Winner 2010 Citipointe Church Community Spirit Award for outstanding community service
• Winner 2009 Suncorp Queenslander of the Year for outstanding community service
• Winner 2009 Ministerial Graham Perrett Moreton Australia Day Awards for community work
• Winner 2009 Achievement Award for community work in Lord Mayor’s Australia Day Awards
• Winner 2008 Premier’s Awards for Excellence in Public Sector Management – in the category of Engaging and Serving Communities
• Winner 2007 Australian Crime and Violence Prevention Awards for crime prevention
• Winner 2006 Australasian Police Multicultural Advisory Bureau (APMAB) Award
• Winner 2006 QPS Awards for Excellence in Problem Oriented Policing.