Name: Hermenegildo do G. da Cruz
Institution: Flinders University
Course of study: BA in Criminology and International Relations
Chief Superintendent in Timor Leste’s National Police force and Australia Awards alumnus Hermenegildo do G. da Cruz had a tough childhood growing up in the village of Bazartate, Liquica. His father was killed in the war five days after he was born, leaving his mother alone to raise him, his sister and two brothers.
His mum worked hard so Hermen and his siblings could go to school, selling goods in the market and cleaning coffee gardens to pay for their school fees. Hermen attributes this early experience as driving his ambition as a young man to become a leader serving vulnerable people in rural areas.
After graduating from senior high school, he went to university in Dili where he was elected as a coordinator for the student council and became an activist campaigning for Timor-Leste’s independence from Indonesia. But when Indonesian militia led violence broke out in 1999, after 86% of Timorese voted for independence, he put his studies on hold. And, following the arrival of an international peace keeping force led by the Australian Defence Force, Hermen returned to his village in Bazartete, where his mother encouraged him to join the police force.After police training Hermen was appointed as a patrol officer and then an investigating officer, working alongside UN Police officers in Liquica where his abilities were recognised. He became fluent in English and quickly rose through the ranks becoming the trainer of a new police in Police Training Centre in Dili in 2001.
Five years later in 2006, a political crisis erupted and caused violence in Dili. This conflict highlighted weaknesses in Timor’s police institutions and the need for stronger leadership.Motivated to help build a better police force, Hermen reflected on the situation and decided it was time to increase his academic knowledge and experience by going back to university. With the blessing of his commander he successfully applied for an Australia Awards scholarship and went to study for a Bachelor of Arts in Criminology and International Relations at Flinders University.
At university Hermen was encouraged to face challenges, solve problems and to think independently. His studies also introduced him to the benefits of grassroots community policing and the importance of having a credible police force.
Back in Timor, after graduating with an honours degree in Criminology and International Relations, he was appointed as District Commander for Bobonaro Municipality.As a District Commander he worked alongside local people in rural villages in the mountainous district of Bobonaro – an experience that developed his approach to community policing.
Hermen made it his business to go and visit remote communities and built trust. In cases of domestic violence, he encouraged perpetrators to think about the impact of their behaviour on their children’s future and the psychological damage caused by witnessing violence within the family. He also provided communities with practical support through his connections with the Timorese friends and the Timor-Leste Friendship Association in Adelaide who provided clothes, books and shoes for primary school children in remote villages.
Policing has had a chequered history in Timor-Leste, including problems with police brutality, corruption and political interference. Hermen’s knowledge and experience taught him that effective policing requires a professional, independent corruption free approach. And in his current role training new police recruits and community police officers he’s working to both enhance police leadership skills and instil these values.
He’s also busy building links with Australia and supporting community based social development. All this work is helping to strengthen the effectiveness of Timor-Leste’s National Police institutions now and for generations to come.