Career 12: From the forwards to the front line

Regan Tamihere has gone from rugby to police work. Photo /  Ted Baghurst
Regan Tamihere has gone from rugby to police work. Photo / Ted Baghurst

Regan Tamihere has the build and the fitness to be a daunting police officer but up until 2007 Tamihere made his living playing Super rugby for the Auckland Blues.

The 103kg flanker turned South Auckland police constable stands at 186cm tall and is an imposing figure on and off the field.

Like many police recruits, Tamihere was somewhat smaller than his current stature when he first dreamed of donning a police uniform. Tamihere made the decision in his early teens. "During my teens I came in contact with a number of policemen and those experiences (increased) my interest in joining," says Tamihere. "I felt my personality and skills base was suited to the role. I have an ability to get on with everyone and to work in a team."

None of Tamihere's whanau had been police officers. During his childhood two of his uncles had a high public profile. John Tamihere was a member of parliament and when Regan was six years old his uncle David Wayne Tamihere was convicted of murdering Swedish tourists Sven Höglin and Heidi Paakkonen.

Instead of joining the police directly upon leaving Papatoetoe High School his career took a temporary turn in another direction. "I knew I wanted to be a cop, but I considered myself when leaving school to be a little bit too young." Instead he studied sport and recreation at AUT University for a year and then joined the New Zealand Customs service as a client liaison officer.

"I applied for Customs (instead of the police) because it was similar to the police. It was a uniformed enforcement role in a government department."

It's not at all unusual for police recruits to have another career first. The skills people bring from previous study, work in the community, playing sports, or understanding foreign languages, are all factors that are considered in the recruitment process.

Tamihere worked a year full time at Customs then combined that first career with rugby in 2005. "In 06/07 rugby was my full time role. I loved it and I still love it. Rugby was an ambition of mine (from childhood) but I knew my future couldn't revolve around rugby because it is so fickle."

Sadly for Tamihere the Auckland Blues dispensed with his services. "I was 24 and I decided I'd better start putting some roots down."

Tamihere had seen media advertising for the website Newcops.co.nz, which has an online mental aptitude test to help potential recruits determine if they might be suitable to become a police officer.

"I had gained enough life experience by then," he says. He registered online for a recruitment seminar before going through a number of tests and being selected to attend the police college just north of Wellington in June of 2008.

The selection process is rigorous to ensure police offices are fit enough, intelligent and culturally savvy. Most importantly, like Tamihere, they need to be motivated to help their community.

Ideally police recruiters are looking for a workforce reflective of New Zealand's diverse communities to ensure responsiveness to the needs of all New Zealanders, says Gerrad van Ooyen, national recruitment manager. As a result the police force is currently looking to recruit more Maori recruits such as Tamihere as well as female, Pacific and other ethnic groups.

The process from logging onto Newcops.co.nz to starting police college took Tamihere four months. Police recruits need to have a number of certificates before they can enter the police college, which can take a number of months to complete.

Upon graduation Tamihere was assigned to the Counties Manukau police in Otahuhu, where he is currently stationed.

There he works as a constable attached to the Criminal Investigative Branch (CIB). Tamihere is aiming to become a fully-fledged detective, which will require him to complete residential courses, study modules, and on-the-job training.

The fact that he made the right decision in his choice of career is confirmed on a daily basis, says Tamihere. "Each shift that I report for duty confirms that the police is definitely what I want to do as my life long career. When you apprehend an offender or gain justice for a victim it is heart-warming - even though it sounds a little clichéd."

Tamihere hasn't left rugby behind completely. With his help the Counties Manukau Police Rugby team won the 2010 National Police Rugby Champs and the Challenge Cup against defending champions Auckland. Tamihere was named Forward of the Tournament.

On the job
Whether it's on TV or in real life, rookie cops sometimes get the worst jobs. Regan Tamihere's heart sank when his partner informed him at 3am one morning that he was going to be the one to swim out into the Tamaki Estuary and check out reports by a boatie of a body floating in the water.

"It was pitch black and we could see a silhouette and ripples of what appeared to be someone in the estuary. I looked at my sergeant and he said: 'it looks like you're going out there to have a look'," says Tamihere.

"I stripped off my uniform off and swam out in my boxers. It was spring and the river was freezing cold out there. I was thinking: 'here I am two weeks into the job and I am swimming out to retrieve some drowned person floating down the estuary'.

"As I closed in it looked like a person and I thought: 'this is what I joined the police for and I better go to it'."

When he finally reached the "body", it turned out to be a mannequin that someone had tossed into the water. It was too far from the shore to call to his supervisor, so Tamihere swam it back to the relieved sergeant and retrieved his uniform from the side of the road.

"I knew when I joined the police (that) this was what I was getting myself in for. You can't imagine someone doing something like that in other jobs."

- NZ Herald

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