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Oamaru Senior Constable Bruce Dow.

The Dow factor

Police Association stalwart Senior Constable Bruce Dow has finally hung up his uniform, clocking off after 49 years with Police

Bruce Dow is retiring, but he’s quick to say that there will be “no golf, bowls, petanque or international travel”. And nor would we expect anything so predictable for Bruce.

During his 45-year tenure in the Otago town of Oamaru, he has always been a bloke who’s liable to stand out in a crowd – be it for his competition-winning facial hair, riding about on a penny farthing bicycle, posing as a Victorian copper or appearing in local media, Bruce has pedalled his own path.

Just last year, when the hair and beard had developed a distinct “lockdown” look, he managed to startle a new staff member at the Oamaru Police Station, who reported to the watch house that there was a homeless man in the changing rooms…

His career choice as police officer was probably predestined, with two uncles having been in the job, one of whom retired as a district commander in Christchurch. With that family heritage in mind, joining Police was always an ambition and one that Bruce realised in 1973 at the age of 19.

He was posted to his home town of Dunedin and in 1977 arrived in Oamaru, his new wife’s home town, and he’s never left apart from stints relieving at stations in the Otago area.

The seaside settlement of Oamaru, with its historic Whitestone Victorian buildings and pioneer-era history seemed to suit him and his family, including two daughters, perfectly.

It was there that he honed his skills as a community constable and realised his talent for road policing. “I took to it like a duck to water,” he says. “SH83 from Oamaru, up through Waitaki to Omarama, and then to Twizel and Lindis. It’s a fabulous area and policing it was awesome.”

He loved patrolling the long stretches of his region’s state highways, usually in a plain car, waiting for his target market – speeding motorists, many of them overseas visitors. It was like catching fish in a bowl. “Very high speeds that were easy to nab. Three suspensions in a single day was my record.”

Ninety-nine per cent of those he pinged were “no problem”, he says, but the rest would try to argue or plead their way out a ticket. Not likely.

Though not one for budging easily, he recalls the time he attended a rural family harm incident and was confronted with a man wielding a rifle. “I don’t think I can run faster than a bullet, but I tried to that night.” Thankfully, the man didn’t fire.

With his long service in Police, Bruce has seen firsthand the sweeping changes in the job. “From 1973 to 2022 is completely different. The technology, the vehicles, the uniforms, the training and the equipment. Without a shred of a doubt, it’s heaps better. Including firearms… in the old days we had revolvers, which were completely useless.”

Dressed for the part with his beloved penny farthing cycle.
Bruce looking wild back in 2020.

Bruce became involved with the Police Association in 1984, starting as the secretary of Oamaru, which at that time was a sub-district of Timaru before becoming part of Otago and, more recently, Otago Coastal. Bruce was the secretary delegate for Otago and then for the regional Otago-Southland committee. He has been to 16 annual conferences, which is probably some kind of record in itself.

Like a lot of association representatives before him and since, Bruce had approached the union after getting into a spot of bother – a police crash – and he needed legal assistance. “That got me involved – the wrong way, of course, but it led me to think that it was a good idea to make a contribution and then I wanted to pass on my experience in association matters – legal and industrial – to younger members.”

In 2017, Bruce received the association’s Bill Murray Award in recognition of his service. It was not expected, and he didn’t want a fuss, he says, but it was nonetheless a proud moment for him when he was presented with the award at the annual conference by president Chris Cahill, and his old mate “Gerks” (vice-president Grant Gerken) was there too.

Meanwhile, Bruce continued to make his mark as an Oamaru identity, including doing a weekly TV show, radio interviews and a regular newspaper column. He was a founding member of the Oamaru Ordinary Cycle Club – the proper name for penny farthings – simultaneously promoting the town and policing with frequent photos of himself wearing a police uniform and riding a replica of the old-style bicycles.

As an aside, he says he still fits into his original police uniform. Perhaps it’s all that cycling.

Mountain biking and climbing are also passions, in and around the district where he indulges his other major hobby, photography. Definitely no time for golf.

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