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All five of our Wing 276 graduates say they can hardly believe it’s been five years since they left Police College in 2013 to begin their careers as police officers.

Above, Wing 276 graduates, from left, Mefiposeta, Amy, Mel, Catherine and Sam as they were in 2013.

Two of the Wing 276 graduates have also been doing their bit to add to the police family, producing twin boys and a girl.

All have spent time working with tactical crime units and all continue to broaden their policing skills.

Three of the five are based in Auckland, where, as detailed in this month’s cover story, some of our members are doing it hard.

Amy Flower says there is no doubt that the costs of living and working there are very high. “We’re forced to move further and further away from the centre due to rising rent/house prices and end up spending more on fuel and time travelling to and from work, which impacts on family life. I feel for those with even larger families to provide for.”

Catherine Sieczkowski says she would like to take a whole year off with her twins, but she and her partner simply won’t be able to manage on one wage, even though the costs of daycare are going to be “ridiculous” – almost $600 a week for the two boys – “Most of my pay gone in a fortnight.”

Sam Hutcheson, who is single, says the high cost of living in Auckland is a challenge, but not unique to police. “It needs to be addressed within Police, but it’s a distraction from the wider issue that police officers everywhere in the country face – that our pay does not acknowledge and reflect the high-stress situations we are in on a regular basis, the responsibility we hold and the high level of accountability that we are, rightly, subject to.

“It also doesn’t account for the price police officers pay in donated overtime and the toll the job takes on their wellbeing. It generates resentment in the ranks, particularly in an environment that prioritises social media campaigns and recruiting while we haemorrhage quality people to other industries and overseas. It goes deeper than a bunch of Aucklanders wanting a few more pennies in their pocket on pay day.”

Police News has been following the group since 2013. Here’s what else they have to say about their professional and personal lives this year.

Making a difference at the coalface

Constable Mel Kingi, 37, has found herself in a role where she feels she can bring all her skills to the workplace – frontline at the Foxton Police Station.

Since graduating from Police College, Mel was working in her home town of Levin doing general duties, including six-month stints in family harm and with the tactical crime unit (TCU). That work helped clarify where she felt her policing future was heading.

“TCU focused on volume crime, gathering information and intel from covert sources, executing search warrants and with a strong focus on getting ‘bad guys’ off the streets,” she says. “While I loved the experience, my passion and purpose for joining Police was not to ‘lock up baddies’, but to help people break free from the criminal system and to work closely with those affected by crime. Working with the family harm team gave me more opportunity to do that.”

It’s an ethos she has had since she went to the college. Back in 2015, a year after graduating, she told Police News: “Every person has a story, yet I am only given an insight into one chapter. Whether they are drunk, homeless or have been beaten, I want to help them.”

And when it comes to family harm incidents, that is where police can really make a difference, she says.

This year, she is based at Foxton Police Station, about 15 minutes’ drive north of Levin. “We work in pairs, but, as is expected, we often find ourselves working alone. There are  challenges that come with that, but it suits me – talking to people, establishing trusting relationships and helping create a positive rapport between community and police.”

Mel’s daughter, who was 10 when she started with Police, is now 15. “I used to worry about the effects that my job would have on my family, but I think that being a mother makes me a better officer. I strive to establish fair and positive interactions so as not to draw negative attention to my family. My daughter has said she wants to be a police officer too, and I’m okay with that.”

Mel says that in the course of her work, she always attempts to defuse difficult situations without resorting to her appointments, and to date has used only her OC spray.

“Maybe it’s because I’m female. Maybe it’s because I’m Māori and have a connection with the large Māori population I deal with in this job. Whatever it is, I try to connect in some way with the people I deal with and to avoid presenting as intimidating or threatening. I think that has helped me avoid potentially hostile, physical altercations.”

Mel says she is not interested in climbing the ranks within Police at this stage in her career.

“While some strive for promotion, I get satisfaction from working directly with those needing immediate police assistance. I rate my successes on establishing trusting relationships with people who may previously not have been willing to interact with police.

“Promotion has financial rewards attached to it, but I don’t feel that an increase in pay is enough to warrant me taking on the stress and responsibility of a supervisor’s role at this point in time.”

The move to working in Foxton wasn’t planned, Mel says, but has quickly become a highlight of her career.

“I’m able to incorporate all of my passions within policing, working in a small community, getting to know people on a first-name basis, helping to educate those needing to break free from the criminal system, protecting and supporting those affected by crime and ultimately feeling that I am helping people.”

At a crossroad

Constable Sam Hutcheson is the youngest of our five Wing 276 graduates. At 25, he admits he is at a bit of a crossroad in his career. “I was only 19, just turning 20, when I started. I’ve grown up a lot in the past five years and now I’m going through a transition period, trying to figure out what I want to do.

“I don’t feel at the moment that I would necessarily spend my whole career in Police though I’ve gained experience and skills and learnt a lot about humanity.”

Up till June 2017, Sam had spent time with several workgroups – the public safety team, as a field training officer and acting sergeant, Crime Squad and Auckland Metro, attending a lot of major incidents. He spent the past year in CIB. “It was never my ambition, but I wanted to do it to see what it was like. It has been a good experience, but I haven’t enjoyed the file preparation aspect of the job.”

He was part of the team that put together the case on Rollie Heke, the fugitive gunman who shot at police with an MSSA weapon, and who last month pleaded guilty to using a firearm against police officers.

“Down the track, I will likely return to that sort of work, but at the moment I would quite like to spend some more at the coalface.”

He definitely prefers frontline, operational, “hands-on” work, dealing with people, rather than sitting behind a desk.

That was evident when he was on a PST patrol in 2017 in Auckland and drove by a young man standing on the edge of the Grafton Rd overbridge, “obviously about to jump off”. Sam stopped and spoke to the man, spending about 20 minutes negotiating to get him down. “It was a good day’s work. I’ve come to realise that I operate on a more instinctive and intuitive level. I don’t really work so well in a slow, methodical environment, but I thrive at working under pressure and making quick decisions.”

He’s considered exploring negotiation work and did some training with the Auckland police negotiation team, but even that was still a bit far from the action for him. “The AOS is my next challenge, but I need to get a lot fitter for that.”

Right now, he’s considering doing the CPK sergeant’s exam.

During his first year on the job, Sam was part of TV’s Police Ten 7 cop show. Looking back, he says, it was certainly strange being followed by the cameras and he was a bit more conscious of what he was saying.

“The programme has become more and more ‘PC’, and so has Police, I reckon. We do serve the public and we are accountable to the public, but sometimes we seem to bend over backwards to avoid offending anyone. It’s a shame we can’t show real policing on TV.”

Off-duty, Sam has been trying to build a race car – a mid-90s Honda Integra – but about two months ago, it was stolen from outside his house. “It’s completely disappeared and is probably in parts somewhere now.”

It’s been a disappointing setback, but he’s consoling himself with a planned snowboarding trip with his friends to the north of Japan next year.

Opportunities keep coming

Former professional rugby player Constable Mefiposeta Taele, 42, is the oldest of the Wing 276 graduates being tracked by Police News since 2013.

Mefi was a relatively late starter to join Police, at 38, as his talent on the rugby field had sent him to France for 10 years, then he owned a sports business and later worked for the Ministry of Justice in Tauranga. He’s always said that if he could have turned back the clock, he would have become a police officer much earlier.

Now, he’s well settled into his job in Tauranga where he lives with his wife, Joanne, and their two children. This year, he has completed 12 months with the tactical crime unit, which he says was very different from his previous work with the Public Safety Team.

He’s been working on “high-end stuff”, homicides, robberies, burglaries and arson. His last job with TCU was another first, and another learning experience, working on reviewing CCTV footage and collating that information.

Mefi has always been keen on picking up new skills. “I just keep working on upskilling a little bit more and applying for jobs as they come along. There are so many opportunities in policing.”

One of those opportunities came along in 2015 when he was chosen as one of 50 Samoan police officers from New Zealand to help police the Small Islands Developing States Conference in Samoa, providing security and looking after delegates.

Meeting so many other Samoan police officers was a revelation for Mefi as previously he didn’t know any. Now, he’s firmly a part of Police’s Pacific Island officer network and keen to find more ways to make use of his heritage within Police. He is also keen on community policing.

It has been “a great journey so far”, but Mefi acknowledges there were hurdles along the way. A couple of years ago he was struggling with the shift work and file management was an issue, but that had been more manageable while working in TCU where the hours were more regular.

He finished that deployment in June and is back on the frontline and ready for his next opportunity.

Twins take hard work to a new level

Constable Catherine Sieczkowski, 31, recalls the moment she found out she was having twins. “It was a complete shock. I had to asked the sonographer to double check what I had just been told.”

The unexpected news took some getting used to. “We started to worry about whether we could financially afford to have two babies. I also worried about how we would cope.”

Catherine had not long heard the news before she started a challenging CIB selection and induction course. “It was a pretty tough four weeks and I often wondered if I would make it to the end,” she says.

However, the course, run through Unitec in Auckland, was really well put together and the trainers, particularly Detective Sergeant Matt Lynch, helped make the course the success it was, she says.

On April 9, baby boys James and Max were born at 35 weeks. Catherine and her partner, Nick, couldn’t be happier. “Despite our worries, we wouldn’t change them for the world, although I think it’s been the hardest thing that we have ever done.”

When we last caught up with Catherine in 2016, she had made the switch from general duties to the tactical crime unit. Halfway through 2017, a secondment opportunity came up with Auckland Prosecutions. “I was happy in TCU, but I’ve always had an interest in that aspect of policing and it seemed like the right time to give it a go.”

In fact, she says, prosecutions proved to be an “eye-opener” and a steep learning curve, but she developed new-found confidence in court procedures, something she had previously struggled with as nerves sometimes got the better of her.

Before the birth of her boys, Catherine had been on light duties with Auckland City Area CIB.

For now, she says, she is enjoying her parental leave before she gets “back into the thick of it all”. She is considering returning to work near the end of the year, either FEO or fulltime.

Challenges come in many forms

What’s worse for sleep deprivation – on-call police shift work or looking after a baby?

Before she had her baby girl, Zara, Constable Amy Flower, 35, thought she was well prepared for broken sleep patterns having done a few years on the Police roster.

“I’ve been quite shocked at how tiring being a parent can be,” she says. “The thing is, when you’re doing shift work, you know that it will come to an end in a week or so. That doesn’t happen when you’re looking after a baby. There are no sleep-in days!”

Amy went on parental leave in May last year, returning to work three months ago, working FEO three days a week in the enquiries section at Avondale Police Station.

Before Zara came along last year, Amy had been working as a community constable at Mt Roskill Station. It was quite different work from the tactical crime unit she had been with at Glen Innes Police Station when she last spoke to Police News in 2016. At that time, she had also just been made a permanent member of the search and rescue squad.

With the change in roles she went from investigating burglaries and other crime to visiting schools and taking part in community events, even doing a dance performance at a school disco. For an officer who enjoys the testing environment of wild search and rescue ops, this was an experience that took her “right out of my comfort zone”.

It just goes to show that the challenges of policing can come in many forms.

Now she’s juggling motherhood with another new role on the enquiries team while she works on becoming recertified. She has recently completed her PCT and two of three integrated training packages that she needs to finish before she can get back into uniform.

She has also successfully completed the Core Investigation Knowledge (CIK) exam that brings her a step closer to being eligible for CIB training. Becoming a detective is one of her goals, along with returning to work fulltime and resuming her on-call SAR role.

Outside of work, Amy’s focused on the needs of her active one-year-old who apparently shares her parents’ love of the outdoors. “If she ever needs settling down, we just take her outside!”

In terms of how parenthood will work with her career, Amy is philosophical. “Police has been very accommodating with regards to FEO,” she says, “but I think it can put limitations on your career in terms of the childcare responsibilities that you have outside work, which mean that you can’t always be on call or available for shift work.”

There was never any question about returning to the job, though, she says. “Even though I needed to go back to work for financial reasons, I was also definitely ready to go back. I still love my job and I missed it.”

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