Sometimes I found kids as young as 10 breaking into people’s houses. Marching them home, we’d often find the parents passed out drunk or high on drugs.
Rather than feeling disheartened, it made me even more determined.
After six years, I trained hard to join the Dog Unit, where I met my partner Chuck. A towering German Shepherd, he was afraid of nothing and had endless energy and strength.
He could also be as gentle as a mouse, so my wife Sandra and I never felt concerned when our young kids, Angus, Max and Charlotte played with him.
The minute he was at work though, he’d glance up as if to say, ‘Tell me what to do, I know I can do it.’
In 2004, when I’d been working with Chuck for two years, criminal Malcolm John Naden crept into his neighbour’s house and molested their 12-year-old daughter.
Then, in January 2005, he murdered Lateesha Nolan, 24, a mother to four kids, aged five, four, three and one.
Afterwards, he dismembered her, before burying her remains.
Five months later, Naden strangled Kristy Scholes, 24, before having sexual intercourse with her body.
Once he finished, the killer vanished without a trace.
On the run, he was the most wanted fugitive in Australia, sparking one of the country’s largest manhunts.
He evaded capture for seven years and was believed to be hiding in bushland. Chuck and I joined the search in 2012.
Then one evening, a week in, a sighting was reported.
In the dark, we followed a track to a hut.
When he tried to run, I gave Chucky the command to grab his leg.
After 2466 days on the loose, Naden muttered, ‘Thank God it’s over.’
My boy had taken a large chunk out of the criminal’s right calf.
That night Chucky got an extra big bone.
In court, Naden pleaded guilty to 18 charges, including murder, and was locked up for life.
It was a terrific moment.
But four years after that, on January 12, 2016, my life changed forever when a call came in from Sydney’s Nepean Hospital.
First on the scene, I found patient Michael De Guzman holding Dr Ma Guinto hostage. Both of them were on the floor and De Guzman had a pair of scissors to her throat. On the drug ice, he was incoherent and shouting.
If we don’t do something, she’s going to be stabbed, I thought.
By now, I’d been joined by Constables Tim Duffy and Lisa Myers. After hitting De Guzman with a burst of my pepper spray, we dived in.
It was a violent and frantic struggle. Suddenly, a gunshot rang out. It didn’t make sense. He didn’t have a gun.
Then another shot…
Rolling off De Guzman, I reached to grab my Glock from my holster.
Finding it wasn’t there I felt sick. It only meant one thing – the crim had it.
Tim Duffy leapt on De Guzman’s hand and grabbed the gun. As I stood up to help, I felt a warm sensation running down my leg.
‘I’ve been shot,’ I radioed in, before collapsing.
Bundled into the resuscitation area, I called Sandra.
‘I’ve been shot, I love you. Tell the kids I love them,’ I said, before the signal went.
Angus was eight, Max, three, and little Charlotte, just 18 months.
How are they going to cope if Dad doesn’t come home? I thought.
Then I was put to sleep for surgery. When I emerged from the anaesthetic, a tube was in my throat.
‘Don’t try to talk,’ Sandra said gently. ‘You’re safe.’
I soon needed another major op to cut my leg open to reduce the pressure and swelling. Afterwards, the kids visited.
‘I love you soooo much,’ I told them.
Chucky was brought in to see me too and leapt onto the bed for a cuddle.
But I still had a long road.
I had to learn to walk again and struggled mentally.
Amazingly, five weeks later, I was allowed home.
As I walked out on crutches, 150 police officers lined the corridor.
Tears filled my eyes as they stood to attention and saluted.
Back home, I suffered with post-traumatic stress disorder. And it was another devastating blow a few months later when Chuck passed away unexpectedly, aged eight.
In October 2018, Michael De Guzman, 41, appeared in court on 11 charges, including shooting with intent to murder.
He was found not guilty by reason of mental illness.
I’ve got lifelong injuries as a result of what he did.
Since that night, I’ve had 14 surgeries and have no feeling in the front of my leg.
Now, I value every moment I have with my family. Chuck’s ashes sit in an urn at home.
I am determined to be an operational dog handler again one day.
But I probably won’t get my own police dog. Chucky could never be replaced.
Read Luke and Chuck’s full story in ‘Man’s Best Friend’, published by Hachette Australia, available now.