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Superintendent Jeanette Park outside the Eastern District HQ in Hastings. Photo: ELLEN BROOK

The pursuit of happiness

Eastern’s new district commander, Superintendent Jeanette Park, talks to Ellen Brook about her life and career and how they have shaped her mission to help as many people as she can.

Altruism is ingrained in Eastern District’s new top cop, Superintendent Jeanette Park.

Even seeking the role of district commander was motivated by her ongoing quest to help people and be “an active influencer”.

If that means putting her hand up for promotion, or any other opportunity to assist, you can bet she’s already raising her arm.

“I’m all about helping people. I always have been. It’s the way I was brought up. I believe that if we can help everyone else to be okay, then it’s good for all of us. That’s what policing is about.

“I care about people, within our organisation and the community. I love seeing people reach their potential and get a kick out of helping people develop.”

That philosophy has been the backdrop to a 30-year career in Police that took her from a Clutha farm to Papakura GDB, by way of the National Bank in Dunedin and Police College, through to a variety of roles and promotions in both islands.

Her confidence has also been an enduring trait, bolstered by an extrovert’s openness to new experiences and challenges.

It was probably also a factor in helping her deal with a professional and personal tragedy that for many others could have been career-ending.

In July 2002, when she was a detective in Feilding, Jeanette and colleague Detective Constable Duncan Taylor responded to an incident where a troubled 17-year-old was threatening a family at a rural property.

It turned into a siege after the offender shot and killed DC Taylor at close range with a rifle and then fired at Jeanette.

As she retreated from the first shot, she was hit in the leg, causing a serious injury. Her subsequent actions led to her receiving a New Zealand Bravery Star in 2005.

As the offender continued to fire, Jeanette used cover to get to a nearby farmhouse to warn the neighbour and call for backup. She then made her way back to the scene. In severe pain and no longer able to stand, she crawled along the roadside to try to alert arriving officers to the danger. Soon after, she was being taken to hospital by ambulance.

The actions of Duncan and Jeanette gave valuable time to the family under threat to barricade themselves in a room from which they eventually made their escape unharmed and the offender was arrested after a four-hour standoff.

Jeanette, who was 33 at time, has never been keen on sharing details of the story publicly, but does acknowledge, “It’s something that never leaves you. It becomes part of you and is with you forever.”

She returned to light duties in October 2002. “Police cared for me, but I did feel my presence was a reminder to every one of the tragedy.”

She realised she had to find a way of coping. She also knew she didn’t want to be defined by what had happened, didn’t want to be forever known as Jeanette who got shot.

“I loved being a detective, and I wanted to be known as an ordinary, hard-working person.

“Duncan and I were good mates. He was an outstanding police officer and a very kind and caring person. Now, I think he would be proud that I carried on in the job.”

She realised she had to “rebrand” herself and sought the advice of a life coach who helped her “become aware of who I was and learn about how to think and understand the psychological impact of what happened”.

She now believes that her experience helped her understanding of the pressure that police staff are under and the importance of ensuring they are safe when they are working. “I understand the support we need to provide to our people on the job.”

Jeanette continued working as a detective in Manawatū, as well as doing a couple of stints at the Police College as a CIB induction course instructor. She also spent time as the Central Districts road policing manager, was OC of the new File Management Centre and Workforce Management and was promoted to senior sergeant.

The promotions continued apace. Next, she was appointed as district manager intelligence, gaining the rank of inspector. Two years later, she became the district prevention manager. In 2019, she went to Hawke’s Bay to relieve as area commander, a role that then became permanent and led to the district commander position in December 2020.

It was a natural progression in many ways, though she says she had never aspired to be a district commander. And, she notes, “there are quite a few female district commanders now. It’s not something new”.

Having been in Police for 30 years, she says she has seen a positive change in the mindset about women in Police. She recalls an incident in the early days in Papakura when she and a colleague were the first two females there to work together in the i-car to attend a callout. “When we arrived, a woman came rushing up to us and said, ‘It’s not safe for you to go in there! Where are the men?’ She wouldn’t believe that we could handle the situation.”

The former national representative discus thrower and keen horse rider (hunting and show jumping) had plenty of true grit to call on and still has.

She was the Women’s Advisory Network lead in Central for many years and carved her own path in the mid-2000s as a working solo parent.

At 36 years old, Jeanette became a mother. After six months of maternity leave, she was back to work fulltime, and her son is now a happy, well-adjusted 15-year-old.

“Having had that experience is another reason why I believe it’s so important for Police to look after their people,” she says.

Jeanette has been with her partner, Dave, for 12 years. He owns a livestock company, and they own 20 hectares just outside Palmerston North. They divide their time between there and Hawke’s Bay.

Her son and partner were supportive of her move to the top job in Eastern. “They know I’m happy and that I just want to be really good at what I do.”

She’s well aware of the challenges in the district, admitting that she doesn’t have all the answers, but believes the approach needs to be one of, how can we help, not, this is what you should be doing.

“With every interaction we have with people, we have to think, ‘Why are they here? How can we improve outcomes for people?’

“We have great opportunities to work with partner agencies to improve outcomes. We have high rates of deprivation in our communities and we need to get to the heart of that, and that’s not easy.

“With the amount of family harm in our communities, I’m keen to not only support the victims, but also the perpetrators to understand why they offend and how we can help them get out of this cycle.

“These are serious challenges for our staff. They face them every day and are doing some amazing work behind the scenes.”

The good news, she says, is that there have been 64 new staff in the district in the past year.

“That has allowed us to establish new teams to assist the frontline, including the Gang Focus Unit, Precision Teams and a PST support team who guide our new constables, building staff confidence and capability.”

As Jeanette hoped, the shooting in 2002 has not defined her, but it’s fair to say that the way she responded reinforced her drive to help others, leading her into a role where she feels she can do that to greatest effect.

She acknowledges the groundwork and investment in community groups of her predecessor, Tania Kura, and wants to build on that, including an ongoing “restorative, innovative and open-minded approach” to delivering policing.

That includes staff. “For me, people are at the heart of everything I do. I truly believe that if our staff are happy, then everything will flow from there.”