Pongaroa: the isolated town with no policeman

Senior Constable Dave Kirk has left Pongaroa after working there for 16 years (file photo).
Senior Constable Dave Kirk has left Pongaroa after working there for 16 years (file photo).

An isolated area of Tararua is without a policeman after its long-serving cop left the force to drive trucks.

The outgoing policeman worries the absence of law enforcement will lead to more crime in Pongaroa, a concern echoed by local residents.

Police say officers from the wider region are now looking after the area and, after meeting with community representatives recently, they will soon reveal what their long-term plan is.

Senior Constable Dave Kirk left the police in January after 21 years. He'd spent 16 of those in Pongaroa, where a few hundred people live.

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He said he enjoyed his time with the police, but driving trucks was always on his bucket list, so he decided it was time to move on.

Based in Pongaroa, Kirk covered a large rural area, stretching down to Pahiatua, out to the east coast and in to Dannevirke.

The closest police station is in Dannevirke, 60 kilometres away, and the roads to the Southern Hawke's Bay centre are winding, meaning the journey takes 50 minutes.

Kirk said he had no doubt that without an officer in Pongaroa, undesirable elements would move into the area. "I've heard it's already started."

Kirk said Pongaroa residents must also take responsibility to make sure they were reporting suspicious activity. "If police don't know what's going on, it's hard to combat it."

Besides the physical isolation, working in rural areas, compared with bigger towns, required a different approach to policing. "A lot of it is about being seen out and about and talking to people, and just the fact the people have a cop on hand if [anything] arises."

Having an officer in the area was important, Kirk said. "It's all about trust and confidence in the community. It's not just always a matter of gathering statistics and getting lock-ups." 

Pongaroa resident Andrew Casey echoed Kirk's concerns and said although Dannevirke police were trying to make sure the area was covered, it wasn't the same as having their own police officer. "He really was part of the community."

Since Kirk left, an officer has manned the Pongaroa police station every Thursday from 9am until 12pm, which Casey said was appreciated. "I live next door [to the police station] and there is always one or two people coming in to chat with them."

Casey said the town was isolated and having Kirk there made a big difference. "We don't have a high crime rate, because we had a policeman."

When there was a big earthquake in the area, Casey said Kirk went around checking on residents and he also organised for a generator to be installed at the school after wild weather left the town without power for days. 

Members of the community had come together and written letters to Police Minister Stuart Nash and other MPs to see what could be done.

Manawatū police area commander Inspector Sarah Stewart said officers from nearby areas were now covering the Pongaroa area. She said police intended to continue providing policing services for Pongaroa.

"In order to be able to better respond to the community's needs, police held a meeting with Pongaroa community representatives in April and asked what is important to them.

"We are currently working through their feedback and hope to advise in the near future [of the outcome]."

In his new job, Kirk would still pass through Pongaroa and he still has good friends in the area. 

He enjoyed his time in the police force and said the biggest change was technology, which was a positive. 

Kirk made a name for himself outside of Pongaroa with his involvement in the annual crime and cannabis programme. 

He is now living in Dannevirke.