Jim Harvey's been in uniform of one kind or another virtually all his 53 working years.

At 15 he joined the army (he's a Vietnam vet), moved to the former Ministry of Transport (MOT), transitioning to the police when the two merged in 1992.

If not Rotorua's longest-serving police officer Jim's up there with those at the top of the table. He's the sergeant who heads Youth Services, previously Youth Aid, leading a team of "amazing people prepared to give everything to these kids".

Young people are his passion, he defends them with fervour only someone who works so closely with them can. His job includes prosecuting the miscreants but he insists it's a scant 2.5 to 3 per cent who are beyond redemption as their lives progress.

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"You don't see too many 65-70 year-olds in prison."

Having 'been there, seen that' for so long he accepts youth crime's inter-generational.

"You can't blame the kids for that."

Gang culture's another topic he knows a great deal more about than your average armchair pontificator.

"Gangs are something they [members] have grown into, they provide everything their families don't, essentially that sense of belonging."

We could go on with his sage philosophising but Our People's job's to provide an insight into this man who wouldn't swap the life he's led for any other, however lucrative the offer.

His early years weren't exactly dedicated to good boy status, when he started school Jim spent scant time there.

"In my first few weeks I'd just run off, I couldn't see the use of it, my grandfather and father were military men, my mind was made up, I was going into the military and school seemed a waste of time."

Time settled him down but the minute he turned 15 he joined the army's cadet school at Waiouru.

"I'd been in the cub scouts since I was 8 so have really been in uniform ever since."

Five years on from joining up, the Papakura-based corporal was shipped out to Vietnam.
Initially Saigon-based, he transferred to the Long Binh supply depot working with the Aussie and American contingents.

"There was action all around us, rockets coming in quite often, a lot of our work was travelling at night so we were fair game."

Base sentry duties weren't one of Jim's favourite postings. "I soon learned you could trade that off to some other sucker for a crate of beer."

He's compiled a memoir of his Vietnam service. "It will probably never get published but it's something for my kids."

Before his Vietnam call-up he'd married Rotorua girl, Deborah Rendell.

"When I got back I caught a cab home from the bus depot, when it pulled up my wife rushed out, very obviously nine months pregnant. The driver did a double take, said 'you've been gone a year' and shot off. What I hadn't told him was nine months earlier I'd been home on R&R."

This wee gem's delivered with a devilish eye twinkle.

After his daughter's birth, the family transferred to Singapore where much of Jim's time involved exercises in the Malaysian jungle.

Home, he stepped out of his khakis to help his father in his Matamata engineering business.

"He was looking towards retiring, my job was to get it into a saleable position."

Mission accomplished he joined the MOT, inspired by his life time love of motorbikes.

"I simply couldn't turn down the chance to ride one for a living."

By 1985 he was a motorcycle instructor at the MOT's Trentham training school.

He arrived in Rotorua, via Taupo, two years on, going straight into prosecutions remaining after the police-MOT merger.

There's an ironical touch attached to Jim's transfer. "Before joining the MOT I'd applied to the police but because I had a brother with, shall we say ' a colourful past', that ruled me out."

Was the transition difficult to master?

"It was like being a Toyota mechanic then going to work on Nissans, the principle's the same, you just have a different set of tools and there was quite a pay boost."

Jim remained in prosecutions - his court room stories would fill volumes.

A favourite is the time local lawyer, the late John Chadwick, successfully defended a client on a drunk driving charge.

"There'd been two people in the vehicle and we hadn't proved his client was the driver. In those days you could ask to bring a prosecution out of time, I did, the judge agreed and the other chap put his hand up, that kind of proved there's more than one way to skin a cat."

Another anecdote involves colourful barrister Mike Bungay whose life's been the subject of the hit TV show Dear Murderer that concludes this week.

"He asked the judge to turn a blind eye to his client's offending, the judge only had one eye and told Bungay that was the one he'd turned. The courtroom's full of stories like that, there are times I've had to excuse myself to go out and gather my composure to stop myself laughing out loud."

Youth Court's a much more serious setting, it's a place on which Jim offers a welfare-oriented slant few know of; one he fingers is that it's shame that often keeps kids out of class.

"I had a boy who wouldn't go to school because he didn't have any shoes. I took him to the Warehouse, bought him a $35 pair and he hasn't missed a day since. It's the sort a thing our staff do all the time."

A bout of ill health, including heart surgery and pneumonia that forced him into an induced coma, has temporarily side-lined him but he's blowed if it's going to force him into retirement.

He's got far too much unfinished business to address.

"I guess I've always worked hard, have concentrated on being upfront and fair, you can't ask for more than that."

JIM HARVEY:

Born: Auckland, 1949.
Education: Paeroa and Matamata Primaries, Matamata Intermediate (foundation pupil), Matamata College, Army cadet school.
Family: Partner, Joanne Sloan (they met soon after his marriage broke up), daughters Tammy and Carole (both Rotorua); four grandsons, one granddaughter. Son-in-law international cyclist Julian Dean. "He's absolutely inspiring because of his dedication to his sport yet so humble."
Interests: Family. "My Harley Davidson, I've converted my partner to it, we spend every spare moment we've got out on it."
On his life: "I'd do it again in a flash, not change anything."
On Rotorua: "I love it, it's vibrant, has virtually everything, what it doesn't is easy to get to."
Personal philosophy: "Be happy, enjoy life."