Constable Clouseau

He is a familiar face about town and his voice is heard every week on his regular Friday morning radio slot. He dices with danger, plunges into icy waters for charity, has been invited to be a Solomon Island chief and helped launch a new initiative to tackle shop-lifting. Julia Holmes finds out what motivates Tauranga community liaison officer Constable Brett Amos.
WHEN Constable Brett Amos' colleagues are out on the beat with him they either feel very safe _ or very afraid.
Afraid, because ``crazy things'' have a habit of happening around him. Safe because, with Amos being a magnet for mishaps, they figure it is more likely to happen to him than it is to them.
Like the time he stopped at the side of the road to help a woman and was buried waist-deep in dirt by a front-end loader that failed to see him.
``I was fine. I thought it was quite funny,'' says Amos, adding that he has never suffered any broken bones, despite having several near-death experiences.
Or the time a colleague refused to drive into a thunderstorm with him for fear of being struck by lightning.
``I'm used to it happening to me. Things like computers just pack up, eftpos machines don't work, I blow light bulbs all the time. I'm always giving people electric shocks ... they say if I could control it I would be dangerous,'' he says with a grin.
Papamoa Sergeant John Mills recalls the first day he worked with Amos: ``We were driving along Route P (Takitimu Drive) and I got called up on the radio. I tried to pick up the radio and somehow he had managed to tangle himself up in the cord to such an extent that I had to stop the car ... he got out and he was still attached to the radio.

He had to take his jacket off ... I couldn't talk for five minutes. I thought _ what the hell have I got here?''
The catalogue of slapstick occurrences has earned the community liaison officer the nickname ``Clouseau'' after the disaster-prone detective in the Pink Panther movies.
But while there may be a situational similarity, he bears no physical resemblance to the slight, bumbling French inspector.
With his burly, 1.85m, bear-like frame and calm demeanor, Amos, 38, engenders feelings of safety and security.
In the Solomon Islands, where he served for six-months last year, he was known as the ``white giant'' and was so revered that the villagers wanted to make him a chief.
``They offered me land and to build a house to keep me there,'' he says, remembering the experience fondly.
If he had been single, he might have been tempted but with wife Linda and his sons Kaleb, 16, and Shaun, 13, waiting in New Zealand, the choice to come home was easy.
Amos was one of 25 personnel sent by New Zealand Police in February last year to help restore law and order in the troubled islands.
Appointed team leader of his group, he held the rank of Senior Sergeant while in the Solomons and returned with two commendations from Solomon Islands Police and the Australian Federal Police.
``It was one of the most fantastic experiences I've ever had,'' he enthuses.
``It was like living in a movie,'' he adds, recalling an eerie memory of sitting in a jungle hut in the middle of the night questioning a militant about a murder while an electrical storm raged outside.
As there were no lights, the prisoner was positioned in a circle of candles, the light flickering across his face as he recounted the horrific details of how
he helped to kill a man.
``It was surreal,'' Amos says. ``It's one thing I will never forget.''
Nor will he forget the smiling cocoa-coloured faces of the children who prodded him inquisitively, having never seen a white person before.
Their toothy grins and wild ringletted hair leap out from the computer monitor as Amos plays a compilation of images he has set to music.
Photography is one of his many talents and the slide show is mesmerising.
As images peel across the screen _ discarded World War 2 bombs nestled in the undergrowth, a toddler clutching a live hand grenade, a tiny baby cradled in bulky camouflage-clad arms _ it is easy to see why he describes his Solomon Islands tour of duty as ``life-changing''.
``I grew a lot. The more experiences you have in life the more you grow,'' he espouses.
Growth is a quality he refers to often.
An ``adrenaline junkie'' who has scaled cliff faces, hurled himself out of aeroplanes and explored the depths of the ocean, he likes to challenge himself mentally and physically.
``I don't like to be stagnant. Life's for living and having as many experiences as you can,'' he says.
CHRISTCHURCH-BORN, Amos moved to Hamilton with his family when he was 11.
His father, Geoffrey, was a regional sales manager for a tobacco company, and a year later they moved to Auckland, where Amos finished his schooling.
His father and mother, Melva, a trained hairdresser, now own a hotel in Northland, a situation that amuses the teetotaller.
``I don't drink or smoke. I can't stand the stuff. I have half a glass of wine on very special occasions,'' he says.
He is also very anti-drugs.
``I can quite honestly say I've never smoked dope or taken anything illicit in my life. People who do that are boring,'' he says, explaining that he prefers the natural highs of travelling, scuba diving, rock climbing and fishing.
Amos has a sister, Tania, who is a nurse and a lieutenant in the Australian Army.
Amos too wanted to pursue an army career but failed the medical because of his eyesight. (The standard has since been changed and he would now be eligible.)
Instead he became a chef but left the catering industry after a couple of years because he couldn't stand being stuck inside all the time with no windows.
His culinary prowess is now enjoyed exclusively by his friends and family.
``I love cooking and having people round for dinner,'' he says.
An Outward Bound stint at the age of 19 was the impetus for change. Amos returned invigorated and inspired to seek a job that was more people-orientated.
Following in his father's footsteps, he became a sales representative, trading in the softer substances of confectionary and fizzy drink.
He worked for Cadbury Schweppes for about eight years, moving to Tauranga in 1988 when he became a territory manager for Bay of Plenty _ but there was something missing in his life.
``I woke up one day and I was lying there and I thought: When I'm on my deathbed I don't want to look back and say ... I sold chocolate all my life. I wanted to make a difference and help people,'' he says, his brown eyes glinting.
In 1993 he joined the police.
Having survived the gruelling training at Porirua, Amos returned to the Western Bay as a constable, working the beat in Tauranga and Mount Maunganui.
He has been in his current role for the past five years and, while he says it can be pretty ``full-on'' at times, he has found the job satisfaction he has been searching for.
Befitting a community constable, the walls of his office are papered with certificates, photos and brightly-coloured police badges from around the world and, in the corner presiding over it all, is a giant teddy bear.
As well as the radio interview he does every Friday morning, the shoplifting seminars he runs, the local committee meetings he attends and the many education programmes he is involved in, Amos also continues to work on the front line.
``The role is huge. I do general duties, plus a lot of other things. My phone often rings 20 times a day with people who want things done,'' he says.
Those ``things'' can be anything from attending car crashes and drug recovery operations to special assignments such as security for Apec, the Queen's visit and, today, the Lions versus Steamers game in Rotorua.
In last month's floods, he was carrying senior citizens through the rising water to safety.
``It was one of those days when you're proud to be a New Zealander because of the way the community all worked together,'' he says.
``The community of Tauranga's great. The people here are wonderful. As a police officer I get a lot of support from the community,'' he adds.
And the support is reciprocated.
Amos is involved in a lot of fund-raising activities _ the blue epaulets clipped to his shoulders are still damp from when he immersed himself in a spa pool of ice for Heart Children last week.
``I'm a pretty positive, happy person and I love helping people. I love making a difference in people's lives and, thankfully, I'm in a job where most days I can do that,'' he says.
But, despite receiving honours for diving into a river to try and save the life of a man trapped under water in his car, Amos says he doesn't do the job to get praise.
``Every police officer has done brave things but often there is no one around. A true hero is someone who does something brave when no one's watching,'' he says.
He pauses, worried that he's coming across as too idealistic, then, in the next breath, shares his favourite quote from Mahatma Ghandi: ``Be the change you want to see in the world.''
It illustrates perfectly his motivation in life.
But it is his own simple, three-worded quote that sums up this gregarious, caring, thrill-seeking, gentle, giant of a man. ``I love life.''

- Bay of Plenty Times

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