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Constable Bryan Ward and his faithful sidekick, Bobby the police dog, might be the most popular police team in the country. They haven’t arrested anyone recently, caught any burglars, busted any crime rings or even issued a speeding ticket, but they work on a formidable frontline where others fear to tread – large groups of boisterous schoolchildren. By Ellen Brook.

Bryan and Bobby get a rock-star reception, among a certain demographic, wherever they go. Children rush to have their photos taken with them. Parents are in awe of their child-wrangling skills and teachers are full of praise for the way the Bryan and Bobby show connects with kids, combining entertainment with life lessons on safety.

The dynamic duo of policing are certainly getting in early on the Prevention First ladder, but that’s the idea, says Constable Bryan Ward. The 42-year-old South Auckland community constable has spent the past seven years spreading the word on safety nationwide through the medium of the Bryan and Bobby show.

None of it would work half as well without Bobby, the puppet police dog. “Don’t call him that!” says Bryan. “Bobby will tell you, he’s not a puppet – he’s a puppy.”

The loyal hound is a bit of a show-off, too, by all accounts. He asks lots of questions and seeks out the limelight, while his “handler” prefers to keep a low profile. So low, that Bryan, won’t reveal his details, except to say that he is not a Police employee. Hopefully there’s some reflected glory for the hand behind the dog blanket throne.

There’s no shortage of young people to connect with. Bryan and Bobby have 2000 Facebook friends, a lively Twitter account and a web page full of adoring messages from school children.

With regular school and library visits and TV appearances, Bryan and Bobby have taught thousands of kids up and down the country about safety – on the road, in the home, on holiday … any place that kids encounter. Topics covered include: bullying, road and bicycle safety, internet safety, fire safety, pool safety and what to do when lost or in an emergency.

It’s been an incredibly successful formula, considering it all started in a fairly ad-hoc sort of way, says Bryan.

While he was working as a community constable in Otahuhu in the early 2000s, he noticed that there was no police education officer at the local school. At that time, Bryan was also an ambassador for the Middlemore Children’s Hospital where he got to know TV children’s entertainer Suzy Cato and they came up with the idea of the Bryan and Bobby show.

As a trial, Bryan toured the show around schools in the Waikato. The result was 4000 letters from schoolchildren. With that strong endorsement, Bryan kept the show on the road.

At first he had to fit it in around his regular Neighbourhood Policing Team project and training duties in Counties Manukau, but, for the past two and half years, he has been working the B&B gig fulltime and now works out of the national Bluelight office in Auckland.

A typical week can include events such as giving away 300 free bikes in conjunction with the Variety Club, visits to schools, libraries and talking about the SNAP (Serial Number Asset Partnership) project. In the same week last year they joined in the Orewa Christmas Parade, spent three days in Taupo visiting 1700 children during the Taupo SafeKids Expo and worked on their new seatbelt safety video released just before Christmas.

“Some police officers think that we are just entertaining kids, but there are multi-layered messages in everything we do,” Bryan says.

He considers the job a hybrid between being a community constable and a police education officer.

When he first started, he says, it was a “baptism of fire”, but previously having done a bit of public speaking helped him cope with the demands of his young audiences. He uses plenty of humour, gets talented kids to join in and celebrity guests sometimes help out too.

One of Bryan’s early supporters was Superintendent Bruce Bird, now national prevention manager overseeing the Prevention First initiative. Mr Bird says Bryan is one of the most innovative people in Police. “He brings a refreshing perspective to how we can prevent crime,” he says. “Bryan has a ‘never die wondering’ attitude and will always give something a go. He has huge energy and passion for the role and is an absolute credit to Police.”

For Bryan, it’s a long way from the job he imagined he would be doing as a police officer. “I thought I was going to be a hard-boiled detective,” he says.

When he joined Police in 1996, it was the fulfilment of a childhood dream, after being side-tracked for a few years as a teacher and retail manager. He had no theatrical background, apart from doing a bit of drama at school, but he did complete a diploma in special education and, he says, “my friends would be the first to say that I’m a bit of a clown”.

The truth is that not everyone can pull off being a bit of a joker in a police uniform and it can be tiring keeping the performances going week after week. “By the end of the year, our batteries are run dry,” he says, but adds, like the good sort he is: “It’s the smiling faces of the kids that keep us going.”

It’s great, for example, he says, “when kids get excited about policing and safety messages”. He recalls a boy from a small South Island primary school who rushed up to Bryan to announce that he always made sure that he wore his bike helmet two fingers above his eyebrows and did his bike check every time he rode his bicycle. “He said word-for-word what we say on our videos.”

It’s feedback like that, and having 13 and 14-year-old kids wanting to have their photo taken with a police constable, that makes Bryan sure he is on the right track.

Bryan and his wife, who live north of Auckland, don’t have children yet, but, as he says: “I have hundreds of kids to look after.”

You can follow Bryan and Bobby online on Facebook, Twitter and website, or see their TV show on TV4 on weekend afternoons.

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