Gun to the Head by Keith Banks

Reviewed by Ian Lipke

The title of this book would lead the reader to assume that, given the career of Keith Banks, the reference is to the dangerous work he assumed during his career, that he is referring literally to some gangster holding a gun to his head and threatening to shoot him. There is truth in that, but it is only part of the story.

Banks engaged in an admirable life as a policeman of many parts. He began as a uniformed police officer, then volunteered to do deep undercover work with the Drug Squad. He masqueraded as a heroin dealer, gunman, and bikie associate, no longer seeing good and evil as black and white, trusting only other undercover cops. For a time, he returned to uniform work but rejoined the Drug Squad as a detective. Having run several successful operations, he was approached to sell seized heroin and split the profits but refused. His punishment for failing to ‘toe the line’ was a transfer to Taringa CIB, one of the high points in his career. The raw humour of the officers in this efficient but companionable station is described with the flourish of a skilled raconteur, and makes agreeable reading.

The unpredictability and danger of modern policing is not overstated. Banks tells the story of a quiet morning interrupted by a woman and child, entering the station and informing him that her husband had been raping her daughter. Peace was shattered in an instant and, as the subsequent investigation unfolded, Banks was changed forever. But there was a longer term, insidious change to the mental state of Banks and other officers. This was the other meaning of the gun to the head of the title, the PTSD to which men, living with threats to life, suffered in varying degrees. “Post-traumatic stress disorder is not only caused by extreme events of life-threatening danger, but it also accumulates over years of dealing with the darkness and evil in people” (21).

The next radical change in Banks’s career occurred in 1982 with his acceptance into the Queensland Police Emergency Squad, at that time peopled by police officers rostered on a part time basis. Under one name or another this squad directed the remainder of Banks’s service life. The rigour of training was no obstacle, the making of new, dedicated friends was self-satisfying. The 1980s was a violent era when the life of a policeman grew into that of extreme danger. As Banks reports, “You looked after yourself and your partner as best you could. And you went back to work on the street carrying spare ammunition. Just in case” (44).

Much of this book focuses on two points, each either exciting in the telling or moving in its implications. Episodes of tracking down and arresting violent offenders fill the pages. One such case involved a gangster named Cox whose intention to kill police was plain. The coverage of a police operation called Borehead was extensive, fascinating since it involved police and ADF, and tragic. Many others are reported in these pages.

All the while PTSD was gathering a serious hold on Banks’s psyche. Unrecognised early on, then its presence suspected but rejected, the disorder gained a crippling hold. Meanwhile, the excitement of service life in which Banks won several awards (including the highest that a serving officer can achieve) continued to supply ‘highs’ against the increasing demands of the ‘lows’.  In time, the inevitable happened and Banks was retired out of the police force.

There is much, much more in this book. Well worth a read.

Gun to the Head

(2021)

By Keith Banks

Allen & Unwin

ISBN: 9781761065125

$29.99; 288 pp

 

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