Obstacles put in the way of police doing their job, retiring detective senior sergeant says

Detective Senior Sergeant Blair Burnett is retiring from the police after more than 24 years to start a new career as a ...
ANDY JACKSON/Fairfax NZ

Detective Senior Sergeant Blair Burnett is retiring from the police after more than 24 years to start a new career as a real estate agent.

A veteran police officer says stretched resources and policy changes are making it "difficult to catch crooks".

Detective Senior Sergeant Blair Burnett, who leaves the police on Friday after a career spanning more than 24 years, said more staff was the only way to combat the growing crime rate.

Reported crime has been on the rise since 2013 and Burnett said it was partially due to criminals rolling the dice and taking their chances knowing current police resources were stretched.

Detective Senior Sergeant Blair Burnett has supported calls to bolster police numbers in New Zealand.
ANDY JACKSON/Fairfax NZ

Detective Senior Sergeant Blair Burnett has supported calls to bolster police numbers in New Zealand.

"I think that there is a fair proportion of that going on, I think you would be naive to think that that is not the case. They do play the game and it is a game of cops and robbers," Burnett said.

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Labour leader Andrew Little has promised 1000 extra police will be put on the beat during its first term in government, should the party come to power, and Burnett is backing the call.

"We need more police, there's only one way that you are going to bring down crime and that's with a consistent concentrated approach to what that issue is - drugs, burglaries or whatever."

Dectective Senior Sergeant Blair Burnett leaves the High Court at New Plymouth in December after David Roigard was found ...
CHARLOTTE CURD/Fairfax NZ

Dectective Senior Sergeant Blair Burnett leaves the High Court at New Plymouth in December after David Roigard was found guilty of killing his son Aaron Roigard.

While Burnett understood the theory behind a recent change to focus on the rapidly rising number of burglaries nationally he said it shouldn't have to come at the expense of other areas of policing including specialist squads targeting organised crime.

"They are looking at reducing the numbers and yet organised crime is growing because we can't do it all with the limited pool of resources, so we have got to try and do the most with what we have got.

"We are never going to beat it that way."

Detective Senior Sergeant Blair Burnett at a cordon during an armed police call out in Inglewood in 2015.
Andy Jackson/Fairfax NZ

Detective Senior Sergeant Blair Burnett at a cordon during an armed police call out in Inglewood in 2015.

Policy changes and Health and Safety regulations were also impacting officers ability to do their jobs, the former freezing worker said.

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"It's almost difficult to catch crooks, it's almost difficult to catch drug dealers, it's almost like there's obstacles put in the way to catch these people although we have all the tools and resources to do it.

"There's so much policy and procedure and things that go on that everything is difficult."

Burnett said when he was stationed in Hawera between 2005 and 2013 crime was at an all time low because officers were able to get out and just do their job looking after their own patch.

"We had a mandate at that time to do what we thought was right in order to get the job done and we got it done and cleaned it up."

However since police became centralised crime was again rising because of a lack of focus on local issues.

"We lost, I guess, sight or we lost the ability to do everything and focus on what we felt locally, what should be focused on.

"We took a lot of pride in our patch and with that pride comes committed and motivated, enthusiastic staff and the desire, you know passion if you like, to do a good job."

Under the centralised model police were sometimes supplying resources to other areas in the district which prevented them being used to focus on issues in their own area, he said.

"We inadvertently have lost sight, I believe, of our own problems and our ability to manage and deal with our own problems.

"Absolutely it can be frustrating for staff."

Burnett said the police were often used as a political football by successive governments looking to reduce crime and sway voters but the continual new directions took its toll.

"Some of the things that they've done, I don't think have been beneficial for the police." 

After leaving school aged 16 Burnett, who had never considered a career in the police, went farming for a while, worked on a shearing gang and spent time working in a dairy factory making cheese before getting a job at the freezing works in Hawera, where he spent nine years before deciding their was no future in it for him.

"I can remember looking down the chain one day and I saw these old buggers and they were working away and I thought if I stay here I'm going to be just like them."

Burnett again tried his hand at farming before winding up in Dunedin selling building supplies when mates from his rugby team suggested he could join the police.

"I went along to a recruiting thing and next thing I know they rang me up said you're in and so I joined the police."

Training College held a few surprises for the new recruit.

"It was a real culture shock to me actually, there's all these rules and procedures and polices. You can't just bust into houses and grab crooks, I was mortified.

"I had no idea of what I was getting into."

Despite the unexpected rules and regulations Burnett began walking the beat in Hawera in 1992 and has steadily risen through the ranks to become a detective senior sergeant at the end of 2013.

Overall Burnett said he had enjoyed his career in the force but is now starting another chapter in his life, as a rural real estate agent for McDonald's, which felt surreal.

"The police has been a fantastic career.

"I've accepted the fact that I'm leaving and I haven't got eight or ten years doing what I'm doing so I needed to consider my options and therefore change.

"I either stay until I'm 60 and put up with whatever happens, deal with whatever happens or see what happens or leave and try something new and that's why I've gone."

Burnett said he had mixed emotions about the new direction which he had only been able to take due to the support of his wife Robyn.

"I'm excited and I'm anxious and a bit nervous, it feels surreal, this has been my life for almost half of my life."

During his career Burnett has been involved in a number of high profile cases, including robberies and homicides, but he said the 2014 murder of Aaron Roigard had provided both a highlight and low point.

He said the investigation and subsequent conviction of Aaron's father David Roigard in December 2015, who was sentenced in February to life imprisonment with a minimum non-parole period of 19 years, without a body was a positive.

"It's rare, the team were outstanding.

"The low light really is Aaron is still missing."

The missing piece meant Burnett was leaving the job with unfinished business.

"I've got a promise yet to fulfil and that's to find Aaron, I told Julie [Aaron's partner] I would and I haven't."

 - Stuff

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