Like all New Zealand children, I wanted to be a police officer when I grew up. I'm not claiming that for years and years it was my one burning desire, I just mean I'd been taught to respect them, and told they were good people who look after us. Of course that sounded like something to aspire to. Plus, I watched ChiPs, and who didn't want to be like John and Ponch.
There was a community constable who used to come to our school when I was little. She was all tall and flash and friendly. Sometimes she would bring a dog. Who didn't want a job with a dog.
One time I got lost in the shopping mall in Pakuranga. I was there with my mum and my nana. It's the first time I remember going there – it must have been the early 80s and I was about 6. There was a big totem pole thing in the middle of the mall back then, and I stopped to look at it. It was multi-coloured and huge, made out of some smooth concrete stuff that was designed to look like wood. I didn't have a clue what it was supposed to be or mean. I fantasised about climbing to the top and looking down over everyone. And then I realised I was by myself. All I could think to do was walk a circuit of the mall looking for Mum and Nana. My stomach was tight and queasy. I walked faster. I promised myself I'd see them the next time I passed the woolshop, and walked another circuit. They weren't there. I held my breath and believed I'd see them when I had to let it out. They weren't there either. I tried again. I was forcing myself not to cry, trying so hard not to make a scene. I swallowed down a sob, and vomited on the footpath. A woman came out of the coffee shop and growled me and asked where my mother was. I started crying and couldn't answer. A policeman arrived right then and said he'd take care of me, and gently asked me questions and talked to me until mum arrived. He was so nice. Of course I wanted to be just like him.
Later when I was 12, two policemen came to my house because a couple of my friends had been caught shoplifting. The policemen were convinced I had also been stealing. My father let them in and stayed in the room while they talked to me. They spent an hour or so trying to get me to admit to involvement in some sort of sophisticated shoplifting syndicate made up of an unspecified number of my 12 year old friends. They looked in my bedroom and pointed out things they said they knew I had stolen. Everything they pointed to was a gift from my mother. They left, saying they'd be back. They went to get more statements and evidence, but apparently were unsuccessful. When they returned they stated they wouldn't leave until I admitted I had been shoplifting. They stayed for another hour or two, repeating that they would leave me alone when I owned up, and that they knew I was a thief. They tried to get my father to leave the room to “give me space to tell the truth”. Eventually, and this is the only time I remember this happening in my life, my father sided with me against strangers. He told the police it was time for them to leave.
Whangarei in the 80s was pretty small, pretty rural, poorer and browner than most towns, far removed from any political or economic power. People in Whangarei don't suffer from inflated or unrealistic levels of entitlement. Whangarei was a town where the police could tell you to turn out your pockets, and you did. No need to concern yourself with citing your legal rights, none of us knew them, and I'm sure it wouldn't have made any difference if we had. Just as easily they could call a young maori kid nigger and give him a smack around the ears for having a smart mouth. Or visit the houses of young solo mothers during the day and demand sex.
Anyone who can live in a town like that and want to be a police officer is someone you don't ever want to be alone with.