When sixty of us 17 and 18 year olds gathered at the Police College in Trentham, Upper Hutt in January 1981 it’s probable that none of us really knew why we were doing it, or where it might take us. We had been selected from a pool of applicants and as the country was in a recession, with unemployment rising it was likely – in hindsight – that there would have been no shortage of applicants. From what I can pick up, some joined because of family connections, some because they saw this as a career for life, and others, well, who knows what 17 year olds are making decisions based on!
Recently, our Covid delayed 40 year reunion took place in Wellington, with 27 of the group, some spouses and one instructor. And we saw videos from four others who couldn’t make it including until recently the coach of an international rugby team.
Through 1981 we were designated temporary constables to help out with policing during the controversial Springbok Tour. 58 Graduated. Four have sadly died. Three of us, including one of my besties still, started our police careers at Dunedin. Six of the 58 are still serving in the police.
During the reunion weekend, we visited the Royal NZ Police College in Porirua where we moved to in March 1981, as the first occupants. Exactly 42 years ago today, on 1 April 1981, the then Prince of Wales, visited us and formally opened the new College. It was an amazing event, and we trained hard to put on a gymnastic display with telegraph poles, got a crash course in marching and drills and I’m sure we made everyone pretty proud from our parents in attendance, the police commissioner Bob Walton through to the then prime minister Robert Muldoon. Prince Charles was our Patron and so we were and still are known as the Prince of Wales 25th Cadet Wing. The Cadet programme only lasted another year, and after that all recruits had to be grown ups of at least 19 years old!
It seemed to me at the reunion there might be an inverse relationship between tenure in the police and enthusiasm to relive that special year. For the six cadets still serving as police officers, it was obvious they were proud, but the life was still very much in the present. A great career for each of them I’d say.
For me, having done nine years, there was a certain level of marvel at revisiting the college, and with it all the memories stored away. Some things I don’t remember I ever knew. On the tour the subject of remuneration came up “$8990 was our starting salary” I declared. Turns out that was only if you had UE – otherwise it was a $1000 less! Parts of my career are stored for ever there and I never knew – the display in the Museum of the Rainbow Warrior bombing where I had been brought in to support as 2 i/c Exhibits, the Trades Hall bombing where, with a Detective Sergeant, I had been privileged to conduct the Auckland-based enquiries, and the memorial to Police officers killed on duty including a Sergeant I had known in Dunedin. All sobering and satisfying to reflect on all at the same time.
Sharing a cup of tea in the canteen at the end of the tour I chatted to the latest recruits, to discover that their patron is one of my partners at PwC. Small world. If they represent the police of the future, we are very fortunate. Far more mature, and balanced than I recall we were!
There’s practical stuff I learned in the police that I use every day in my work still – freeze the scene! – which is more about capturing electronic devices in my work now, but the principles are just the same as for a physical environment, and capturing and recording evidence for use in Court.
But the gift of the training and the time in the police has been holding onto resilience, perspective and calmness under pressure.
I use that every day too. It’s good leadership.
Thanks to the police for quite a lot actually.