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Wellness officer Mike Rundlett and PEO Kelly McCallum in the Police four-wheel-drive buggy at Waitangi Day 2020.

Ready to take the heat

When the heat is on at this year’s Waitangi Day celebrations there will be a couple of guardian angels arriving in a Police four-wheel-drive buggy delivering water and snacks to keep officers on duty hydrated and fed during the week-long event.

It’s part of an initiative launched by the Safer People Wellness Team in Northland and follows a successful trial at last year’s Waitangi Day.

Tens of thousands of people are expected to visit the historic Waitangi Treaty Grounds on February 6 and in the week leading up to it.

The police presence will include about 200 staff on site, including two workforce management staff assisting with logistics, typists, road policing staff and bomb dogs. Working remotely will be intel and ops teams and 36 Tāmaki Makaurau staff deployed to fill gaps created at Northland District stations.

Physical education officer Kelly McCallum and wellness officer Mike Rundlett make up this year’s two-person Safer People support crew.

Kelly was part of the trial in 2020. “We made up batches of coconut water and sugar-free Raro with salt and water, chilled, handing them out to staff during the day to help them cope with the heat. They do try to find a shady spot to stand but that is not always possible. Police had to stand down one person who got really hot.”

Kelly also made oatmeal cookies and handed out carrot sticks, granola bars, bananas and other fruit.

The healthy snacks and drinks may not have been everyone’s favourite, she says, but they provided much-needed energy for officers who had to stand up for long periods.

She’s been looking forward to the 2021 event, keen to take the knowledge from last year’s trial to deliver an even better service to staff this year.

Kelly believes the Safer People initiative could be used as a model for other events around the country.

Meanwhile, Acting Senior Sergeant Courtney Sandilands, who at the end of January was eight months’ pregnant, is part of the Operations Group for Northland Police.

It’s a huge job, Courtney says, and it was compounded by the Northland Covid-19 scare that emerged late last month. At that stage, the team were “just boxing on like it’s BAU, but we are looking at a number of contingency plans in case we change alert levels. It’s all about being flexible”.

Added pressure this year has also come from the fact that the event falls on a Saturday between two long weekends (Auckland Anniversary Day on February 1 and the Waitangi Day public holiday on the following Monday), which means there’s likely to be even more people deciding to make a trip north as part of their holidays.

Another event expected to attract extra crowds is at the nearby Ruapekapeka Pa, being held as part of the 175th commemorations of Te Ruapekapeka Battle.

Courtney, who has worked on the ground at Waitangi events for the past seven years, says the Wellness Team’s presence in 2020 worked really well. “In previous years, staff have succumbed to heat exhaustion, especially those in full uniform and body armour, plus road policing staff do hours in the sun.”

The police presence is not just for Waitangi Day but must also cover the week before and a few days after. Planning started months ago to cover arrangements for VIPs, including the prime minister and governor-general, throughout the week, and the community day on February 6 following the official ceremonies.

“It’s a fluid process as things can change,” says Courtney, citing the Covid-19 scare last month as an example. “We can’t just do a cut and paste from previous years.”

Along with the celebrations and community spirit, Waitangi has a history of protest and conflict. Courtney notes there has been less controversy in recent years since the celebrations moved from the lower Te Tii Marae to the upper Treaty grounds.

She says protests are part of the landscape at Waitangi and everyone is entitled to have their say. “Not all protests are bad. It’s a chance for people to voice their views.”

The iwi liaison officers are also invaluable to the success of the week, she says. “We get our teams into the community to build partnerships. We say, you’re entitled to be here, let’s work with you. There’s always potential for hostility, but most of these groups just want to use it as an opportunity to be heard.

“It’s a really important day for New Zealand to commemorate and celebrate. Let’s work together to fix things.”

This year, the imminent arrival of her third child has put her in different role, but there’s a long-standing joke in the office that she’ll end up having the baby on Waitangi Day because of the pressure.

“If that happens, I’ll just have it and pass it to the person next to me and carry on… I’m just too busy.”