Walking a thin blue line with integrity and honesty

MATT BOWEN
Last updated 08:49 10/12/2012
GOOD TIMES, BAD TIMES: Senior Sergeant Peter van de Wetering has seen the worst and best of society during his 35 years with police.
MARK TAYLOR

GOOD TIMES, BAD TIMES: Senior Sergeant Peter van de Wetering has seen the worst and best of society during his 35 years with police.

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A British TV cop show was the spur for a life within the law, reports Matt Bowen.

To survive the daily grind of dealing with the seedy, unsavoury villains of society, young police recruits need integrity and honesty.

A bit of modesty is good, too. They need to be prepared for hard work and be able to live with the inherent risk of the job. Yet sensitivity, to both individuals and cultures, is another requirement. Without it, people will stop coming to police with their problems.

When Senior Sergeant Peter van de Wetering spoke those words, he was talking about prospective officers.

But he was also talking about himself.

He has always had those characteristics, he thought, and they evidently served him well.

On Friday, the 54-year-old will receive a clasp from the police force's top brass during a formal ceremony in front of his colleagues to recognise 35 years spent on the beat.

The stories from those years are grim, heartwarming and, at times, helpless.

What led him into those situations was, perhaps, a television show.

Mr van de Wetering arrived in Waikato from the Netherlands as a toddler. His parents immigrated for a better life and young van de Wetering took advantage of a childhood in Thames Valley and nearby schools.

Then there was Z-Cars. The British drama series about the work of uniformed police in fictional Newtown touched a nerve in the boy.

Mr van de Wetering says it hatched an interest in doing something good for society and making a difference.

An innate social conscience cemented his leanings for a police career following a short stint in architectural drafting.

It was August of 1977 when his train to the Royal NZ Police College, then in Trentham, chugged out of Hamilton.

Three months later, the 20-year-old was on the beat in central Auckland with the weight of the law on his shoulders. Like all new recruits, it was an eye-opener for the self-confessed country boy.

He was often, literally, lost.

Yet it was learning the role of asserting the laws of the land that opened his eyes, because Mr van de Wetering thinks it's not natural to assert authority over others; the skill has to be learnt.

He also had to adjust to adversity and conflict. It was everywhere, every day.

And soon he was dealing with it in Hamilton, where he walked the Criminal Investigation Bureau path.

He never left the region but did stints in the armed offenders squad, search and rescue, the corporate fraud squad, general duties and semi-covert work.

He also helped set up community policing centres in west, east and north Hamilton.

Now Mr van de Wetering is the district manager for the nationwide rollout of "policing excellence initiatives". There are many strands to it but basically they're aimed at improving police service to victims of crime and getting police on the frontline as opposed to behind a desk shuffling paper.

Despite work on improvement, Mr van de Wetering says New Zealand's police are second to none in the world - they have a good professional organisation with the right intent.

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Although even with best intent, there was failure.

There are two incidents that figure prominently in his memory.

Both involved women at the receiving end of "a serious crime".

One, in the 1980s, was never solved.

Mr van de Wetering says the woman has never been able to be relieved of the injustice done to her, from a legal perspective, because no-one has ever been held accountable.

He'll never forget it.

The other case failed in court.

Mr van de Wetering has wondered about how they could have worked better, but sometimes you just hit a wall.

Sometimes you fail.

As a police officer, he would say the jury got it wrong.

However, it did help expose the suspect, a "predatory criminal", who was arrested again within two years and convicted of attempted murder in another police district.

That at least gave him satisfaction.

There were also triumphs.

Although absent for the first six months of the inquiry while seconded to the Serious Fraud Office, Mr van de Wetering then returned and led the team of highly competent investigators that worked on Operation Allsorts - a four-year piece of police work that exposed and successfully prosecuted a white-collar fraud ring that was one of New Zealand's largest fraud investigations.

The property and loans frauds left about 50 victims out of pocket to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars and some victims without their homes.

Sending the main protagonists to jail was a proud moment. Mr van de Wetering and another colleague, who were lead investigators in the case, received warm praise from the High Court judge .

Yet it was the victims he cared for most.

He felt some satisfaction that the harm done to them did not go unnoticed in the end.

Another case he recalled was the kind that can make the the constant adversity of police life worthwhile.

In the 1980s, Mr van de Wetering arrested a tough, staunch 19-year-old man on a manslaughter charge.

But the young man was virtually instructed to remain silent by senior gang members who were also involved.

Ultimately, they were all convicted and the young man went to prison.

When he got out, he disappeared.

Mr van de Wetering heard from a reliable source recently that the same man moved to Australia and rebuilt his life within the law.

"Whatever we did to that young fella, and whatever the justice system did, at least he salvaged his life.

"You remember things like that," Mr van de Wetering said.

There's one other thing he advises new police recruits to remember - family should always come first because all Mr van de Wetering's character traits would have meant nothing without the support of his wife and the love of his three children.

matt.bowen@waikatotimes.co.nz

- Waikato Times

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