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Stew Mills has retired after 20 years of helping Police Association members.

No one can say Stew Mills hasn’t put in the time with policing, first as a police officer, then as a Police Association field officer, a title recently rebranded as SEAD (senior employment adviser district).

It adds up to decades of service and when Stew retired at the end of June, he felt he could honestly say that his career both inside and out of Police had been “a magic ride”.

“You learn and you keep on learning,” he says of the “tricky tightrope” he and the team walk in terms of negotiating employment relationships.

It wasn’t where the young Stewart thought he would end up. A sporty kid from Sandringham in Auckland, he trained and worked as a motor mechanic after he left school, and played representative hockey, but the memory of an impressive local constable had always stayed in his mind.

He joined Police in 1968 at the age of 21, serving first at Auckland Central then quickly moved to the Auckland Wharf police for 18 months. His next move was to Ōtāhuhu in what was then known as South Auckland, where the volume of serious crime and homicides was an eye-opener.

He joined CIB and was promoted to detective sergeant in 1974. In 1986 he became the shift senior at Ōtāhuhu and moved to a station senior sergeant role at Papakura before returning to CIB as a detective senior sergeant.

In 1996 he retired from Police and joined Auckland City Council, eventually becoming the regulatory manager overseeing enforcement of the Local Government Act and Resource Management Act from 1998 till 2002, when he joined the association as a field officer.

Stew had sole responsibility for an area from Te Kauwhata, south of Auckland, to North Cape. It was a little twist of fate that led to some reinforcements being called in. “At that time, Stu Mills was the vice-president of the association and a lot of emails intended for me went to him by mistake. He would kindly forward them on, but after a while he figured out that I was quite busy.”

That was when Steve Hawkins was employed, taking on the Communications Centre, Waitematā and Northland. More recently, Natalie Fraser has taken over Auckland City, further spreading the load and forming a good team, Stew says.

All three come from policing backgrounds and Stew says that definitely helps cut the ice with Police staff.

There’s no doubt, though, that the job has grown and changed. Previously, he says, there weren’t so many employment or disciplinary matters to deal with – they were processed differently by Police. It was more welfare, Police regulation and General Instructions issues.

But that changed after 2008 when the Policing Act and the Code of Conduct for Police were introduced. “From that point, staffing levels, including the number of Police employees, went up. Management methods changed and accountability on police increased.”

His years as a field officer and as a SEAD, have made him more empathetic, he says, as he and his colleagues have worked to do the best for members in need.

“A field officer needs patience, perseverance, empathy and credibility to build rapport with all parties to the process. Members need to feel they can trust you and have confidence that you will do your best for them.

“A significant factor is that members usually want to keep working for Police. There’s nowhere else they can perform the role of a police officer. We always try to find a better way for both parties to repair their problems so the employment relationship is maintained.

“It’s about treating people with dignity and empathy and hopefully leaving them in a better place than when you started.”

He has an abiding respect for the work of the association of which he has been a part for so long. Now, however, it’s time to devote more hours to family on both sides of the Tasman and to enjoy plenty of walks on the beach.

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