He retired from Police in 1989 as an assistant commissioner, leaving a legacy of improved health and stability for police families and a cooperative relationship with the association.
As Police’s director of personnel in the 1980s, he tackled the issue of unfit staff languishing in clerical duties, introducing the PERF (Police Early Retirement Fund) scheme which provided medical retirements on a realistic pension at a time when the retirement age was moved to 55.
He played a key role in the development of the association’s Police Welfare Fund board as the chair when ground-breaking changes were being made to the way the fund operated, including the fledgling Police Health Plan.
Peter worked closely with high-profile national secretary Bob Moodie and assistant secretary Graham Butterworth, administering a range of initiatives that heralded the modern era of enhanced benefits for members.
Peter was considered the key person to oversee the new and sometimes controversial initiatives. The policing history book No Right to Strike notes that Peter was highly rated for his intelligence, warmth, humour and “receptiveness to the unorthodox proposals coming from the welfare fund and association”.
Peter was born and raised in rural Hawke’s Bay where his father worked as a linesman. His journey to joining Police took a circuitous route – two years as an engineering cadet, time as a NZ Broadcasting Service technician working for radio stations in Wellington, Whanganui and Napier, then being attracted by a Police recruiting campaign in 1955.
When he began his service in Wellington that year, it was, he recalled in a memoir for his family, “rather a primitive organisation” – few cars, no beat radios, manual records. “Once you left the station you were very much on your own. If you had to make an arrest, you handcuffed the offender around a pole while you summoned support or struggled aboard a tram with your prisoner to get back to the station.”
In 1961 he was promoted to sergeant and transferred, much to his wife’s “disgust”, to Greymouth. In the days of 6pm closing for pubs there was little do apart from policing after-hours drinking. “Once, I had two weeks of night shifts in Greymouth with just one job – a cow struck by a train.”
Promotion to senior sergeant and a transfer to Dunedin followed before he and his grateful wife returned to the capital in 1966 and he became an inspector.
It was during this period that Peter’s considerable skills were recognised by the top brass. He was seconded to a team tasked with reviewing the operations of Police and making recommendations for improvements. Every station was visited, and workloads examined. In one-man stations, he reported, it had become impossible for a sole constable to provide a 24/7 service. Many of those stations in city areas were closed, operations were centralised and the patrol system was introduced.
In 1971 he was the Police representative on a team working on specifications for a joint Police/Justice/Transport computer system – aka the Wanganui Computer System. In 1975, he become Superintendent in Charge of Wellington City before he was moved to PNHQ in 1976 to improve personnel employment.
His rise up the ranks continued: 1985 – Chief Superintendent in Charge Wellington District; 1987 – Assistant Commissioner in Charge Region 4 (Wellington and Nelson). In 1988, Peter was awarded an OBE for services to Police.
During his time in Wellington, there were two water tragedies in the harbour – the sinking of the Wahine in 1968 and then, in 1986, the capsizing of the Police launch Lady Elizabeth in 1986, when two officers died. Peter said he would never forget seeing the pictures of Peter Button’s helicopter appearing to be below the crest of the waves as he flew to the rescue of two survivors and recovered the body of one of the drowned officers.
The following year, Button was killed in a helicopter crash and Peter was invited to become a trustee of Button’s Life Flight Trust. In 1989, Peter became the general manager, taking early retirement from Police. The trust flourished under his watch. He retired as GM in 1998, staying on as a trustee till 2006.
Reflecting on his career, he said it was a “mixture of the good, the boring and the bad”. Perhaps more generously, his colleague and fellow Wellington Retired Police Club member Mauri Cummings noted that Peter was, “a quiet and unassuming man who was intelligent and achieved much in his lifetime”.
Peter is survived by his children, Karen and Steve, and five grandchildren.