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OBITUARY: A man for all policing seasons

Brion Duncan’s career with Police spanned decades, roles and nations, taking him from the beat and rising to an assistant commissioner.

As a detective, he worked on many murder and rape cases and his range of skills, honed at the coalface of policing, eventually led to him being appointed as director of training and the commandant at the Police College.

When he retired in 1997, after 38 years’ service, Brion was commander of the No 1 Police Region (Auckland) and he had been awarded the Order of the British Empire and the Queen’s Police Medal.

His first job after leaving New Brighton District High School in Christchurch was with the Army Regular Force Cadets. From there, he joined the Military Police and became a sergeant at 19, serving with the 1st Battalion in Malaya in 1957. At 22, he joined Police, and was sent to Wellington in 1959, transferring to CIB in 1962.

The following year, four police officers were killed in two separate incidents in different parts of the country. As a result, Police decided to set up a specialist armed offenders squad. Brion took part in the first training and was an original member of the Wellington AOS.

In 1965, he was part of the New Zealand Police contingent deployed on a peacekeeping mission to Cyprus. On his return, he continued serving in Wellington, as a detective sergeant, and in 1970 became the first officer in charge of CIB at Porirua in the rank of detective senior sergeant.

In 1974, he moved to Rotorua to head the CIB and be the AOS district coordinator, and was promoted to detective chief inspector.

In 1978, he was posted to Bangkok, Thailand, as the first NZ Police liaison officer in Southeast Asia, living there for three years with his wife and two children.

Returning to New Zealand in 1981, he was appointed director of drug enforcement and intelligence, overseeing undercover work and intelligence-related programmes.

In 1983, he was appointed director of police training. Soon after, that job was amalgamated with the role of commandant at the recently opened Police College and all training was moved there.

Brion considered one of his major achievements to be persuading the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to provide funding for Pacific Islands police to attend training at home and in New Zealand.

He noted that there had previously been a perception that overseas police training was not appropriate for developmental funding. He argued that, “assisting Pacific neighbours to operate efficient policing services was a good way to keep our own backdoor secure from drug traffickers, terrorists, people smugglers, money launderers and other criminals”.

In 1985, Brion transferred to Otahuhu to become commander of the South Auckland Division. Two years later, he headed the newly established Auckland Services District where he was instrumental in making a helicopter a permanent feature of Auckland policing.

Four years on, Brion was promoted to assistant commissioner and transferred back to PNHQ as head of human resources, including oversight of police training.

During 1991-1992, he was seconded to the United Nations Border Relief Operation to supervise training for police, prison and judicial functions in refugee camps that had sprung up along the Thai-Cambodian border following the excesses of the Pol Pot regime.

On his return to New Zealand, he assumed command of the No 1 Region – seven districts extending from Mercer to Cape Reinga – the largest operational command in the country. He recalled that it was personally satisfying to note that, for the most part, members arriving from the college “discharged their duties in a thoroughly competent and proper manner”.

His final assignment in New Zealand was to lead the Police side of a combined Police and Police Complaints Authority review of the investigation into
the 1994 Bain murders in Dunedin.
The review was to examine complaints for evidence of unsatisfactory performance by police, “but no neglect, impropriety, misconduct or sub-standard practice was discovered”, he said.

He retired from Police in 1997 after 38 years’ service. Soon after, he did a study of policing in Bougainville, reporting to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and, from 1998 to 2002, was contracted by the UN Drug Control Programme to deliver law enforcement training in Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.

From 2003 to 2011, Brion was the retired members’ representative on the Police Welfare Fund and Police Health Plan boards, also serving on the Auckland Law Society’s Professional Standards Committee examining complaints against lawyers.

Brion is survived by his wife, Joan, and two children, Sandra and Mark.

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