Anna Leask is senior police reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Cop drank and gambled away stolen drug cash

Stressed officer's actions a cry for help, says lawyer

Mark Ernest Langford. Photo / Dean Purcell
Mark Ernest Langford. Photo / Dean Purcell

A "bitter and twisted" police officer stole money from colleagues for a night of drinking and gambling at Sky City Casino.

Former drug squad detective Mark Ernest Langford, 43, was sentenced in the Auckland District Court yesterday after admitting stealing cash that had been seized in a raid from a police safe, and more from a colleague's drawer after an in-office collection.

Initially Langford faced five theft charges, but three of those were dropped.

He was sentenced to 80 hours of community work and ordered to pay reparation of $3467.50. Langford had been a policeman for 15 years but resigned after his arrest.

In January it was revealed that almost 70 serving police staff had been arrested in the past three years.

Charges they faced include dealing LSD, assault, drink-driving and theft. In the year to last August, 10 police staff - sworn and non-sworn - were arrested on charges including assault with a blunt instrument, theft of property under $500, theft of a motor vehicle and drink driving.

The court heard that before the thefts Langford had several "issues" including the death of his father, a relationship break up, and being diagnosed with cancer.

"On top of that he felt tremendous work pressure which wore upon him," lawyer Richard Earwaker told the court.

"It's one of those situations where you have a man who had an otherwise good career, had performed ably and well.

"He acknowledged he had become somewhat bitter and twisted after spending years in the force. Disillusionment was the only causal factor. It was progressively building up.

"There were a whole series of major personal and professional situations contributing to where he ended up and decisions he made. He is extremely remorseful and ashamed of where he is standing right now."

Langford had tried to speak to his bosses about being "unhappy" at work.

"It doesn't seem to have been recognised that he was in trouble. It seems that this is almost a cry for help," Mr Earwaker said.

Crown prosecutor Phillip Crayton said the offending was not only a major breach of trust in a workplace, but it also caused harm to the community as it undermined confidence and faith in the police.

Between March and May 2010, Langford discovered the code giving access to a police safe, and took $3062 that had been seized during a search.

In January 2011 Langford went to his squad's office and took a cash box containing $422.50 contributed by his colleagues for an upcoming social event, and a chisel.

He used the chisel to prise the box open.

He went to Sky City Casino and spent the cash on gambling and drinking.

Judge Eddie Paul said Langford's offending generated an uncomfortable atmosphere of suspicion among his colleagues - a tight knit squad.

"Suspicion goes on everyone until the matter is finally resolved. That had a significant impact on other officers who ... had nothing to do with the offending.

"The public expect their police officers to act with the utmost honesty and integrity - particularly where funds are seized as a result of searches. They expect the funds will be stored safely, that money is not stolen by the very officers involved in retaining the safety of it.

"In terms of this being a cry for help - that perhaps has a ring of truth to it given it was almost inevitable his offending would have been discovered, and it was fairly quickly."

Mr Earwaker asked Judge Paul to consider a reparation-only sentence, as Langford was not a risk to the public and had dealt with the issues that caused the offending.

Judge Paul said: "Even if personal deterrence may not be necessary, there must be a message of deterrence, especially for other police officers... that is a public expectation."

Langford did not speak during sentencing, but said afterwards he wanted to apologise.

"I am extremely sorry for what I have done and the impact my actions have had on my former colleagues. At the time I was under intense personal and professional pressure which I failed to get help for. I have now sought appropriate assistance and hope that today's sentencing will bring finality to this matter," he told the Weekend Herald.

- NZ Herald

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