Annemarie is the magazines editor and regular columnist for the Bay of Plenty Times.

Big Read: Women in blue

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As police celebrate the 75th anniversary of women in policing, Annemarie Quill meets three female officers: a retired detective who has investigated some of New Zealand's grisliest murders, a rookie street cop who is also world champ in waka ama, and a senior sergeant, (the highest female rank in Tauranga) who got married this year and is still competing in triathlons despite nearly dying in a horror crash in Te Puke six years ago.
Senior Sergeant Deirdre O'Donnell - area response manager Mount Maunganui, Papamoa and Te Puke. PHOTO/JOHN BORREN
Senior Sergeant Deirdre O'Donnell - area response manager Mount Maunganui, Papamoa and Te Puke. PHOTO/JOHN BORREN

THE RETIRED COP


Former Detective Senior Sergeant Dayle Candy CHRISTMAS DAY 1989, Tauranga.

CIB detective Dayle Candy was looking forward to a festive lunch relaxing with family.

At 8am she was called out to a rape. She "dealt with that", and had barely returned home when she was called to an arson. After that she squeezed in ham and pavlova before attending a double homicide following a drug deal gone bad on the East Cape.

It was just another day in the office for Candy.

Now 61, a mother of four and grandmother, she retired from the force in 2000 and now pounds the streets chasing houses, not baddies, as an Auckland real estate agent.

Speaking to the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend just before the 75th anniversary of women in policing takes place in the Bay this weekend, Candy remembers with pride her 26 years of serving communities, mainly in the CIB and rising to the rank of detective senior sergeant for Counties Manukau.

Stationed in Tauranga in the 80s, Candy recalls 1989 as the year that marked the end of the sleepy innocence of a seaside town, scarred by a spate of gruesome murders.

Earlier that year Candy had attended her first homicide in Tauranga, a woman who had her throat cut from ear to ear.

I had proved I had dealt with everything, often on my own. The first four years in Tauranga I dealt with serial rapists and gang rape and put away several bad people.
Dayle Candy

She then investigated the murder of an elderly Pukehina resident by a group of young men. The year 1989 was also when one of the Bay's most notorious murders happened - 24-year-old British backpacker Monica Cantwell was raped and strangled while walking on Mount Maunganui, her semi-naked body found 50m from the track just below the summit three days after friends reported her missing.

Candy joined the police in 1974 and qualified as a detective in Auckland. Arriving in Tauranga at the start of the 80s, although she undertook relieving work as sole charge detective in small stations like Katikati, it took her four years to be appointed officially, which she put down to being a woman.

"I had proved I had dealt with everything, often on my own. The first four years in Tauranga I dealt with serial rapists and gang rape and put away several bad people.

"I still have my letter of application for detective where I wrote that I felt I had been passed over as a woman. A perception existed that a male from out of town was a better applicant than a local already qualified policewoman.

"After four applications I had to assert that point and luckily then received the transfer back into the CIB. The working environment was restrictive for women overall with only one policewoman having children and returning to work and that was only because she had a sister who could look after her children. Day cares didn't exist then."

Leaving Tauranga in 1990 for Auckland for another promotion, Candy went on to investigate several high-profile homicide cases, significantly women who had gone missing and were later found murdered.

Read more: New restrictions for Tauranga property investors

These included 20-year-old Leah Stephens, who disappeared from Auckland's Queen Street in 1989. Her body was found years later in Woodhill Forest.

Intensive police work discovered Stephens had been witness to a contract killing five days before she went missing. The killer - a Black Power gang member - slit Stephens' throat, fearing she would talk. The police team eventually prosecuted and convicted the double murderer in 2000.

Candy was also on the team investigating one of New Zealand's most enduring mysteries, the disappearance of Auckland teenager Jane Furlong in 1993. Furlong's remains were found 20 years later, but despite an elaborate investigation, called Operation Darlia, her murder remains unsolved.

Before her retirement, Candy headed the inquiry into Claire Hills' murder in 1998, which has been described as one of the most callous in New Zealand history.

The 30-year-old was abducted at traffic lights in Auckland in the early hours of the morning and taken to the top of Mangere Mountain, tied up, doused in petrol and set alight. Hills was on her way to work at McDonald's when she was killed and police found her work name tag partially intact in the back of her burned-out car.

Candy doesn't gloss over the harrowing parts of the job. When her children were still young she received several death threats connected with cases she was investigating.

"I had a well-organized home life with a lot of support and my children enjoyed good care from their father, their step-father, my mother-in-law and my husband's family."

Not in uniform as a detective, Candy got her suits especially tailored as the jackets had to fit a gun inside. She did sometimes glam them up with heels, but she was not like Helen Mirren's famous television portrayal of fictional detective Jane Tennison in Prime Suspect.

You need courage but it is very rewarding. You develop a great deal of empathy for people, and close fondness for your colleagues.
Dayle Candy

Unlike Jane, she never had perfectly styled hair, drank whiskey, ran in heels, nor sat outside a suspect's house chowing coffee and donuts, she said.

Despite having to keep fit, she jokes that she has a lifelong membership to Weight Watchers. To kill time on the night shifts she took solace in icecream and milkshakes.

"As a cop you work odd shifts, but you have your police family."

Candy is happily married to a police officer who still works in South Auckland. She says since her younger days as a cop there has definitely been a climate change with more opportunities and equality for women.

"Many times I was just funny back but often I did react and the colleague knew he'd crossed the line with me. There was no further nonsense experienced from that person. You definitely have to have a good sense of humour."

Despite the challenges of a job which delves into the dark underbelly of the criminal world, Candy says it is a very fulfilling profession. The "hope of righting wrongs" always outweighed the grim encounters.

"You need courage but it is very rewarding. You develop a great deal of empathy for people, and close fondness for your colleagues.

"There is great variety in the work, and you are out and about and stay fit. Yes, there are bad things and bad people, but you take encouragement out of the fact you are working to change that, to make a difference."

She says she is honoured to have served and protected, and although she has now swapped her oversized jacket hiding a gun for a designer one, she was comfortable with a weapon and all that she had to do.

"You don't want to get shot, and I never was."

As part of the events, she is giving talks to "the girls" at police stations.

"I advise them that a good way to get a promotion is to offer to work when a male boss goes on holiday. You will be in charge and can prove you have what it takes."

She hopes more women join the profession. It takes a certain type of woman to thrive in the force.

"I tell them there are four key things you must have as a woman police officer. Number one: communication skills - you need to get on with people from all walks of life, use words to gain the trust of a victim and know how to interview an offender to get a confession.

"Number two: a great sense of humour.

"Number three: Be true to yourself, have integrity, be honest and professional. These skills are transportable and allow you to hold your head proudly as you progress.

"Number four: You need to like a good morning tea."

THE SENIOR SERGEANT


Deirdre O'Donnell (nee Lack), area response manager Mount Maunganui, Papamoa, Te Puke

Senior Sergeant Deirdre O'Donnell doesn't do the 'running man', but she is a competitive triathlete.

Not bad for a 45-year-old who almost died in a horror crash on SH2 six years ago, which left her motionless body trapped against the steering wheel of her Nissan station wagon.

She had broken 17 bones, had a pulmonary haemorrhage and lacerations to her spleen and liver.

As an officer she had attended lots of fatals along that stretch of road. That fateful morning she was off duty on her way to the gym.

It was a seismic shift, she said, to be on the other side, to be the person with a life that the emergency responders were battling to save. Trapped in the car, in agony and losing blood, she asked for her mother.

Her colleague, Mike Clement, then Western Bay of Plenty area commander, leapt into the car next to her while the team tried for an hour to extract her from the mangled wreck.

Clement waited outside the theatre when four surgeons operated for nine hours, and visited every day in hospital, where she spent two months. With metal plates still in her body, the gutsy cop returned to work less than five months after the crash and was competing in triathlons a year later.

Comforting next of kin is what I get satisfaction from. When you tell someone they have lost a loved one, they will always remember how they got the news, so I always bear this in mind about how to deliver it.
Deirdre O'Donnell

Her "police family", as well as her own family, and physical strength pulled her through.

Hugely popular in her community, the Bay was gripped by her inspiring recovery.

O'Donnell has been in the force for 20 years and is one of just three females in her rank in the Bay of Plenty - the others in Rotorua and Whakatane.

She is tough. A little bit daunting on first encounter. Sitting in the interview room of Tauranga police station you cannot imagine O'Donnell appearing in a police hip-hop video. You wouldn't want to be a suspect across the table from her steely glare.

Yet her tough exterior belies a cheeky sense of humour and a huge heart. One of her strengths - and something she finds rewarding - is a job that most officers dread: telling families their loved one has died.

"It sounds morbid but I've attended many sudden deaths over the years. Comforting next of kin is what I get satisfaction from. When you tell someone they have lost a loved one, they will always remember how they got the news, so I always bear this in mind about how to deliver it."

She continues to attend crashes, and has had next of kin contact her even years later to thank her.

"I've attended many fatal accidents, and I do not enjoy doing it but I know I can deliver the service the family needs."

O'Donnell was one of the first officers to arrive at Mount Beach when 5-year-old Jack Dixon was swept to sea by a freak wave in 2014. O'Donnell became Jack's family's liaison officer in the agonising search that followed. His body has never been found.

"The Jack Dixon incident was indeed a tough time for all involved and working alongside the family was difficult, as you feel their pain and their loss, and an incident like this stays with you in your heart and mind."

Police work with families is a crucial role that takes skill, she says, as the officer involved must navigate the family through a tragic situation and although it is always hard for the officer too, it is an aspect of O'Donnell's role she takes great care in.

"You don't toughen. In an emergency situation, adrenalin takes over, and your job is to provide a service to others. You can analyse when you get home, but there is nothing wrong with crying. I have cried with parents. We are human too."

O'Donnell is quick to note this is not symptomatic of female emotions - "male officers cry too". She has never felt like she has been treated differently as a female officer, even though when she joined it was a bit of a "boys' club".

"I played a lot of sport so a lot of my relationships in sport were with men. There may be remarks but I just take them on the chin."

She doesn't think female cops have to be like men, "just be your own person".

You have to be fit, though.

A chronic asthmatic, she had always wanted to join the police. She trained to pass the fitness test, which she still excels at today, including a 2.4km run, press-ups, sit-ups, a jump test, grip test and obstacle course which tests speed, strength and ability to get over walls, through windows, and go under and over things while sprinting and dragging a hefty dummy.

She jokes that she doesn't do much sprinting after baddies and jumping through windows these days.

"Now we have the cars and dogs."

Read more: Body washes up at Mt Maunganui beach

The tools of crime prevention and fighting have changed too. No longer is she walking the beat with her notebook. Police have iPhones and iPads and use Twitter and Facebook to gather intelligence.

"Traffic police issue tickets digitally ... police no longer attend burglaries - forensics do. And we have a whole family violence team who do tremendous work. It is hard working with the same victim, police can feel they are banging their own head against a brick wall, but it is an area we are so committed to, with more intervention too from other agencies."

When O'Donnell started out, she just had a baton. Now police have pepper spray, tasers and Glocks.

Despite access to technology and weaponry, O'Donnell says face-to-face policing is what women excel at.

"Women are better at words. Criminals are not necessarily going to be softer, but they are actually a lot more respectful. When we arrive at, say, a family violence situation, that man may have been beating a woman he is in an intimate relationship with, but when they see the uniform, they stop."

O'Donnell has had no desire to move out of uniformed roles.

Although now in management, she says frontline responders are the backbone of policing. Part of her role now involves recruitment, talking at local high schools about traits that make a good cop.

"You need values like professionalism, integrity, honesty, decision making, problem solving. You have to be able to interact with all members of the community. We are not dealing with the retired white European male, we are dealing with all cultures."

O'Donnell married this year and has two step-children. Physically, there is little trace of her accident.

"I just suffer the odd bit of discomfort with my training and racing that I have to push through."

But it made her appreciate friends and family more, including her police family. She values her work-life balance. She is not pushing beyond her current rank. "This is me."

She is as passionate a police woman now as she was when she started 20 years ago. She would like more women to join to "right the wrongs in the world".

And if you get her in a good mood when she is out and about, she just might do that 'running man' along the boardwalk one day.

Rookie police officer Rebekka Still is a world champ in waka ama. PHOTO/JOHN BORREN
Rookie police officer Rebekka Still is a world champ in waka ama. PHOTO/JOHN BORREN

THE ROOKIE


Constable Rebekka Still

When 33-year-old Rebekka Still talks "appointments" and "clients", you may think she is a Bay businesswoman. Intelligent and feisty, she could be a young lawyer or a company executive. But for Still, "appointments" are guns and "clients" are criminals.

Still did work in the corporate world in health and safety management after university, but the police was where she wanted to be. She joined two years ago and is a frontline officer with a first priority to respond to 111 emergency calls.

Driven by a desire to serve the community, a sense of right and wrong, and a mission "to put the bad guys away", putting on the sirens is an undeniable part of the thrill of the job.

"It's definitely a drawcard, but you learn to control the adrenalin ... When you get that call and you're in the car, if you are in the passenger seat you are gathering information. As you are driving there you are also assessing risk, which can include what sort of 'appointments' are necessary."

Rookie police officer Rebekka Still. Photo/George Novak
Rookie police officer Rebekka Still. Photo/George Novak

The use of guns is instructed by senior officers but frontline officers also use discretion within a strict framework.

"You have to think quickly about potential scenarios and how you can keep the people involved safe, and yourself. "I have got into physical incidents with men where they haven't cared whether I am male or female and had a go anyway, but that is not the norm.

"As part of training in college you are taught how to arrest and control someone. It doesn't require you to be super physical, it is more like martial arts principles of using your own body. It doesn't matter how tiny or weak you are, it is the technique you use to control someone."

Like O'Donnell, Still believes "women are better with words. Women can control situations with words, especially talking down men who might be quite threatened. We can talk them down versus physically getting in there. It is funny, it is like a respect thing. There are not many men around that are prepared to take a crack at a female in uniform."

Still, herself, is very fit - an athlete who recently competed at the IVF Va'a World Sprint Championships on the Sunshine Coast in Australia. (Va'a is known as waka ama in New Zealand). She is part of the Elite NZ women's team, winning gold at the elite competition, and at club level of the competition was part of Hoe Maia from Tarawera Outrigger Canoe club, winning two bronze medals from three events.

Read more: Bay teens waiting weeks for mental help

Still thinks the hip-hop and running man videos have humanised the police and, importantly, reached young people, making them think policing is "a legit career".

Social media has also changed the way crime happens.

"You used to have two people in a fight, now they take that fight online."

Still uses social media to gather information.

"Searching for a missing teen, I hunted through her Facebook page and by identifying friends, we eventually found her safely. We know that young people are always online, even when they are in bad situations, so it is a way to connect with them."

Gaining the respect of young people is important.

"I don't like it in malls when I hear a mum say to a misbehaving kid, 'I will give you to that officer', because that is perpetuating us as a symbol of fear and that is not who we are."

Learning from O'Donnell, Still says her mission is to make people's experiences of dealing with the police positive ones.

"When people are dealing with police, it's often in tragic circumstances or something really awful in their life. We want to make that experience as painless as possible. I treat people with upmost respect - people you might not think deserve it - because they are still human. I want them to remember I was respectful."

In two years Still has already responded to some harrowing scenes.

"There is nothing that I dread. Even the really difficult stuff I enjoy. It is making me a stronger person and a better cop."

Rapport with fellow officers helps.

"People in emergency services are close because we are dealing with often horrific situations and the best people to understand is each other. You lean on each other.

"Recently I attended a really awful sudden death and afterwards my colleague and I got coffee and sat in the car and chatted about it for half an hour.

"There are also formal support networks within police to ensure we are not struggling."

Banter often includes "horrendous humour" which people in the outside world might not understand or even think crass, but it is simply making light of situations that can be difficult to process otherwise.

Still is proud of being a cop but when out or meeting new people, she just tells them she is a shift worker.

"When you are out you are always still a cop, but if I come across a situation off duty, I would just report it unless it was something that was serious."

She does let her hair down and socialise with friends.

"But there are still rules of conduct. You don't want to go and be a maniac in a local pub and then the next day potentially have to deal with people who you have been out with."

As for aspirations, this driven officer is committed to the frontline.

"I've got a few places I would like to go but I would like to be a good street cop before I start thinking about moving on."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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