It may be something to do with her Spartan heritage but there is something of the warrior in Anthoula Moutis. Not that she is a forbidding person, far from it. She is very approachable, friendly and quick to laugh but there is a firmness in her bearing.
I had been trying for some time to arrange an interview with Senior Sergeant Moutis who heads the Victoria Police’s Film and Television Office (FTO), and with it the burden of ensuring that the image of the organisation with 22,000 members is correctly portrayed to the viewing public.
It took over a month before she had the time to talk and when she did, she was generous with that time.
The reasons for the delays were numerous. The demands of her job change as the situations arise.
“Why I was not able to get an interview with her was because she was seconded to Bairnsdale during the Gippsland fires to serve as the public information officer for the Incident Police Operation Centre (IPOC). Her role to act as the liaison between the police and the media disseminating live to the public during the fires in the region.
“There was, for example, a story doing the rounds that there was looting going on. Police enquiries were generated to find out whether there was actual looting or whether it was scurrilous information that was being disseminated and I would inform the journalists for their news bulletins.”
Then there were the journalists who wanted to go out to the places where the fires were being fought and Sen Sgt Moutis would have to find out which routes were safe to travel on.
“Sometimes the fire roads were closed because of fallen branches and trees and I had to tell them which were the safest routes to the fires.
This was more of an emergency services’ role and she worked closely the lead state agency in charge of handling the fires, the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning.
“Every day I would stand up and report on what was happening in Bairnsdale and my job was to facilitate all that. It was different from my usual role, as it was emergency management. ”
Then, as she stood down from the fires, and moved onto a complete change of scene: she was tasked to act as police liaison with the loud, enthusiastic fans of Greek tennis stars Stefanos Tsitispas and Maria Sakkari during their run at the Australian Open.
“I was engaging with the community while the stars were playing. I told them it was okay to chant and enjoy themselves so long as they did not go into issues on religion and politics or to swear because it was being beamed all over the world.”
And then it was back to the FTO at the Victoria Police Centre and working with television production houses for a number of television programmes.
“My role is to protect the interests and reputation of Victoria Police,” she said. “The office is a conduit between Victoria Police’s Media and Corporate Communications Department and the television production houses. For example, Australia Crime Stories is doing a special programme on fraudster Jody Harris. They have tabled a submission to us and we have to see whether the programme is of benefit to our organisation and its needs.
“And, more importantly, how is the production going to be reflected from our perspective. What we are concerned with are mainly factual programmes. The TV production company owns the rights and makes decisions for dramatic element of the content.
Preparing for the production of a television series is not simply about generating interest in the story or investigation and organising for the production company to come.
“I have to research what the (police) investigators will be talking about, find out the sort of questions they will be asked and prepare appropriate talking points to make sure the answers are on track, accurate and do not cause distress to anyone.
In the case of the Jody Harris story, Sen Sgt Moutis asked for a summary to work out what the police investigators would be talking about would not run contrary to any court suppression orders.
“We do not do many dramas. The programmes that we deal with are subject to an agreement that we have the right to review an episode before it goes to air. For example, if an officer interviewed has delivered a line the that has been used of out context, we take it out.
Two of the programmes where Sen Sgt Moutis is overseeing are the popular series Highway Patrol on Seven and Random Breath Test (RBT) on Channel 9. The footage is as it happens but filming only goes ahead with the consent of the all the parties including those have been pulled over for drug and drink test.
The veto (against broadcasting a segment) will apply if an alleged offender decides to contest the matter in court. Then the incident will only be broadcast 28 days after the court decision to ensure there are no further legal proceedings on the matter.
“Eighty per cent of the people that have been filmed so far have been drug drivers, so maybe the message against drink driving is actually getting through and there is a real shift (in the public’s attitude).”
Sen Sgt Moutis holds production meetings every Monday so that everyone knows their role.
“I then meet with my superintendent and during the week and I want to see results.”
“My favourite saying about managing comes from Sir Richard Branson: ‘take care of your people and they will take care of your business.”
The FTO consists of Sen Sgt Moutis and two sergeants and an officer to look after the needs of the entire organisation. The workload can get heavy so that good relations between colleagues makes the burden much lighter.
“I don’t want friction, if there is an issue it is raised and we move on,” she said.
Much of how she approached her work she learnt from her father who before he died, had been running a successful paint business in Craigieburn, the Paint Spot, which was recently bought by paint giant Dulux.
“Everyone knew Peter from the paint shop, the ‘King of the North’. He emigrated from Greece with his father and then they brought over his mother and sisters.
He started out as a taxi driver, then he worked as a sales rep selling wallpaper when he came across a business in Lalor. It started off as a furniture business and he developed it to sell gas hot plates and stoves. For the first two years he broke even but he, with her mother Penny, built up the business over 40 years, and then went on to buy theirsecond store in Craigieburn.
“I worked in the family business before I joined the police. It got to the point in the 1990s when I told him that once we reached a $1 million turnover I would starting looking for a challenging career.”
“I went to Greece on what was supposed to be a 32-day holiday but stayed for 69 days. It was while I was visiting my mother’s side of the family in Nafpaktos that I met my cousin who was applying to join the police.
“Two of my uncles were also in the police and that is when I thought I would like to join the police.”
On her return to Australia, she applied to join and has not looked back. She had yearnings to be a barrister and while she has not yet given up on that dream, her life in the police force has fulfilled her need for a varied life.
“This is a diverse organisation, the opportunities are extraordinary, not to mention the good benefits. It has developed much from when I first joined in 1999.
After graduating from the police academy Sen Sgt Moutis was in general policing for a number of years before moving onto the Armed Robbery Squad.
The pressures of being an investigative officer, she says, are different to what she faces now in the FTO.
“Coming from an investigative background, where you are pursuing offenders, when you are on the road interacting with the public, and you are working out the appropriate legislation to charge people and then preparing your brief of evidence to go to court – that kind of busy is completely different to the busy I am dealing with now.”
Then there is the emotional pressure that comes with dealing with the victims of violent crime.
She joined the Homicide Squad in 2010 and then left for two years following the birth of her child.
She returned to Homicide two years later and led the team that found the killers of Bill Stephenson who was reported missing in Bendigo in early 2014.
“Suspicious missing person cases are the hardest to deal with because there is no starting point as you have in conventional murder case where you have a body to begin with.”
In the Bendigo case, the burnt body of Bill Stephenson was recovered months later and the first priority was ensure the correct identity of the remains.
“I travelled to New Zealand to see the family, to take statements. I also needed DNA samples from them in order to match them with the body. So I had to deal with the victim’s mother and sister which presented an additional emotional aspect.
“Sometimes you are psychologist trying to explain the process to the family whose first question on recovering the body was ‘how long is it going to take?'”
“As an investigative officer you try your best to explore every source of your enquiry to satisfy the family. The satisfaction you derive is when the offender is found guilty and is serving a sentence for the crime. That is closure for me.”
“When I was investigating homicides, the last thing on my mind was what the journalists had in mind. Now that I have been working with the FTO, I understand what the journalists want. They need to report to the community what is occurring: ‘is the public in any danger?’, ‘has anyone been captured?’ and they have to work to a deadline.”
“I have been with Media and Corporate Communications Department four years and it has been a hell of a ride – I have learnt to multi-skill and I have learnt how to interact with the corporate world. It’s a role that requires diplomacy, structure and dealing with “externals” (outside the police organisation) the production companies and the journalists and find out what their needs are as opposed to working an investigation.”