A love of front-line policing has lured a senior Wellington officer into taking up the role of Wairarapa's top cop.

Police this week welcomed Inspector Donna Howard to the role of Wairarapa area commander, a position left vacant after the departure of Inspector Brent Register in March last year.

Based in Lower Hutt, Ms Howard was previously the police national headquarters professional conduct manager and brings a wealth of experience to her new role.

Born at the Linton Army Camp, her roots are in the Taihape and Waiouru area, although she completed high school in Hastings before gaining a Bachelor of Arts at Victoria University.


Initially rebuffed from the force due to her height, she joined the police on her third attempt in 1991, after height restrictions were relaxed.

Ms Howard spent 10 years working in Porirua before moving to the Wellington drug squad and then the criminal investigation branch, where she was part of the Lillybing murder investigation.

In 2005, she was part of a Solomon Islands investigation into homicides committed during the civil war and, in 2009, was part of a United Nations taskforce in Timor-Leste.

After spending two years in a management role, Ms Howard said she was keen to get back to front-line policing. "I was starting to think I was ready and wanted to come back to district -- I tend to like the vibe of the district to see staff achieving and working well with the community -- that was a big plus of this position."

"There are great people over here doing some good work and it was my chance to get back to the front line, that's my passion. I do like the whole vibe of being out there and getting stuff done. I think Wairarapa has huge potential and I think from what I can see the community is well on board generally."

Ms Howard will be responsible for a team of about 78 staff across Wairarapa.

While staff, in particular Senior Sergeant Mike Sutton who has had several recent stints as acting area commander, had been doing a great job, it was time a permanent commander was appointed, Ms Howard said. "The staff are doing a fantastic job but it's time for me to get in the chair and pick up the slack."

Ms Howard said she would bring a collaborative approach to working with her new staff and the community.

"Because I'm new to the area I need to get a sense of it and that's going to involve me getting to know the staff and the local leaders and the community, and speaking to them about what is working well, what is not working well and what can we do better.

"The staff are doing some great work here and we just need to keep that momentum going ... the big thing for me for the first three or four months is to get there and listen and see how it's running."

A big focus will be connecting with the community, she said. "For the community to be safe and feel safe, we need to know what they need and what the issues are, so it's all about communication -- my job is to provide the environment where the staff can be fully engaged with the community."

Ms Howard will be Wairarapa's first female permanent area commander, joining nine others around the country.