Twelve Questions: Detective Sergeant Rob Lemoto

Detective Sergeant Rob Lemoto is the face of top-rating TV2 show Police Ten 7. The South Auckland-raised cop joined the police after seeing gangs held to account in his neighbourhood.
Detective Sergeant Rob Lemoto. Photo / NZME.
Detective Sergeant Rob Lemoto. Photo / NZME.

1 Why do you like being in the police?

I enjoy catching bad people and removing them from the community. Because of our rotation policy, I've done all kinds of police work from community policing to Bougainville, but organised crime's my favourite. To me, gang members are just kids who can't stand on their own two feet. Hells Angels changed the whole nature of gangs years ago. They were making such good income from drugs they started doing their own PR, but it's a load of rubbish. They might collect toys for charity, but they run the drug trade in this country and that's an evil trade. Methamphetamine is destroying families and communities. Some people who call themselves experts on gangs have never seen the truth behind it.

2 Why did you join the police force at age 19?

I grew up in Manurewa and wanted to join the police after seeing them holding gangs to account in my neighbourhood. My younger brother was being looked at by the Mongrel Mob.

He was a big boy who wasn't interested in school and was pretty handy with his fists. But he would never have entertained it in a million years, not with the family values we were brought up on. Dad's Tongan and Mum's European. Dad went to church every Sunday and worked two jobs, plate-setting in the day and printing at night, because we're a large family and us three boys used to eat them out of house and home. Dad was raised in a noble family in Tonga and expected us to get the best education possible.

3 Did you ever get into trouble when you were young?

Some of the stuff we did at James Cook High School was just crazy. We'd wag and go play rugby across the road. My mate would run into the wholesaler and grab a six pack for us to share. We wanted to be cool but it was just stupid. I was a real smart ass too. I used to tease one of the boys at school just to show off and get a laugh, but that's bullying. I was ignorant to how terrible that guy's life must have been. You look back and think, "What a dick I was". If I saw him now I'd apologise. I don't think anyone goes through life without regrets.

4 What kind of discipline did you get at home?

I never got a hiding from dad, just the threat. My younger brother got a big hiding after he was caught stealing but that was a rarity. Dad would just sit us down and lecture us. Man, we were trouble if the cricket was on because he could spend four or five hours lecturing us while he watched. We'd think, "Just give me a hiding and let me go". Now I work in Child Protection, it's disappointing to see kids who are too afraid to go home.

5 Do you think South Auckland has an unfair reputation when it comes to crime?

I had a wonderful childhood in Manurewa and I'd still live there. Horrible headlines sell papers. We did have a bit of a run of serious crime and that stigma kind of sticks. But bad things happen all over this country and times have changed from when I was a kid and we could walk home from the spacies parlour late at night.

6 What surprised you about police work?

The first thing that blew me away was the paperwork. I was like, "Why am I still in the station three hours after an arrest? I should be on the street chasing the next bad guy". I also didn't realise how scrutinised we are. We're held to a high level of accountability -- as should be the case.

7 Do you think police get a hard time in the media?

I get disappointed when I see police get berated for something and we can't comment because it's before the court. People don't follow up our side once the final result is in because by then its old news. But we've learnt to live with that.

8 Why did you join the Armed Offenders Squad?

I wanted to lock up a drug dealer, but because he had firearms my boss called in the AOS. I was like, "No, it's my offender. I'm going to go in and get him". I didn't want to receive him gift wrapped in handcuffs. So I decided to be on the other side of the cordon. The AOS is great work - there's range days, helicopter rides, explosives. But we're never all gung ho and Rambo. We do as much as we can to contain the threat and minimise harm.

9 What was it like being in the AOS when one of your colleagues accidentally shot and killed innocent bystander Halatau Naitoko on the northwestern motorway in 2009?

That's your worst nightmare, to be responsible for harming anyone else. You immediately feel sorry for the family. He was a Tongan boy too. The police are like any other organisation, we have water cooler conversations. If someone dents the boss's car you get people ringing round trying to find out what happened, but when its high level like that you don't talk about it. We just waited for the outcome of the investigation. We had every faith that if that person had acted inappropriately he'd have action taken against him and if anything needed to change we'd do it.

10 Do you think all New Zealand police should be armed?

Do I personally want to carry a pistol with me when I go to jobs? No. But I'm in the CIB, not the front-line. That's a dangerous place and it's getting more dangerous. It should be up to the front-line to decide.

11 You're now based in Tauranga in the Child Protection Team. Do you enjoy that line of work?

At first I didn't want to work in child protection because I had young kids but they said to me, "This is your chance to make a difference". You get stuff on your desk that makes you angry and upset, but it's your job to keep these children from being victimised by these absolute mongrels, to get in there and remove them from bad families and give them a chance in life. You have to see a psychologist every three months which does help.

12 Do you have any plans to retire?

I'm 41 - too young to retire. I actually tried my hand at front-line policing again in Mt Maunganui on New Year's Eve but I accidentally pepper-sprayed a female colleague. We were arresting this huge guy fighting outside a pub. I had to pepper-spray him - he would have broken me in half - but it bounced off the offender and hit my colleague. You feel terrible. I had a few suggestions to get some remedial training. These days I spend two days a week in Tauranga reviewing files and three days in Auckland working on Police Ten 7. I'm really enjoying it. Last year we had nearly 100 arrests related to the show, 40 as a direct result of information received - that's one per episode, so we'll see how much longer they'll put up with me.

Police Ten 7 is on TV2, Thursdays, 7.30pm

- NZ Herald

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