One of Hawke's Bay's longest-serving police officers has said goodbye with a symbolic stride through the CBD wearing his helmet just as he did when it was near-compulsory street wear 45 years ago.

Senior Constable Ross Stewart took the march with grandchildren Jack and Chloe in what was another symbol of his work, after spending more than half his career in Youth Aid, as police services to children and teenagers have been known.

The simple arithmetic reveals, that at age 63 it's been the job more or less since school days, even if the niche which he found came almost by accident — a youth aid job having offered a doorway into the Auckland area in 1984.

While youth aid work was sometimes seen as a soft spot in the wearing of the uniform, there'd be few in 2018 who would quibble how serious and front-on it really is, something which was recognised two years ago when he was awarded the ONZM in the 2016 Queen's Birthday Honours.


It was he who called the first Family Group Conference (FGC) as New Zealand took what were seen as World-leading steps in how it dealt with youth offending, or tried to prevent it, and he is well aware that the ship is far from righted as the system 30 years later still talks about the greater inter-agency alliance seen as necessary to tackle the issues.

At the time his ONZM was announced two years ago, he revealed he had not been completely sold on the idea of the family group conference, but it just took one, in a house on the Kapiti Coast — "just me, the social workers, and the kid's family ... at his home" — to tell him the conference had more than some merit.

It was held ahead of the introduction of the legislation, which was more about restorative than retributive justice, with the opportunity for working on "reasons" for offending rather than dismissing the factors as "excuses", and ultimately turning people "around" and helping create a safer society.

The biggies in policing of the era had been such things as 1981 Springboks tour mayhem and the 1984 Queen St riot in Auckland, and before that the emergence of gangs and a new influence on vulnerable youngsters, and Stewart found he'd suddenly found something he loved.

"I've enjoyed it ever since," he said in June 2016. He wasn't looking at moving on any time soon, but 26 months later perhaps change has intervened and he's got out so he's still got time to achieve a few things which have caught his interest for quite some time, like doing a lot more travelling and climbing, and the family things such as helping the grandchildren grow to be the citizens he has so often hoped of the less fortunate youngsters encountered in the day-job.

"They all have potential," he says.

"There not one of us, not one among us all, who didn't do something stupid in our youth and should have been arrested."

He understood any of them could be turned around, with varying degrees of work, and turned into good, achieving citizens, although it wasn't usual to see the better results."

It's one notch in the belt years later when a stranger, with slightest indication of familiarity, looks at him and says: "You Ross Stewart ... ?"

He wonders for a moment whether to duck, but instead is overwhelmed by a man who tells him how he'd spent a bit of time in jail, but much of it was spent thinking about a policeman named Ross Stewart who would pick him up when things weren't so crash hot in the man's teens.

Proudly, he told of how his life had turned around, gotten away from the bad influences, married, brought-up kids, and become involved in a church.

"I used to think you talked rubbish, but I want to thank you," the man said as he warmly clasped the hand of the lawman.

Stewart says it's rare to see such a result, but it's a time thing and happens, he hopes, more often than he sees the aim achieved. The ones that are seen are, of course, those still reappearing in the system.

The thing about Ross Stewart is that to many of the youth offenders he has encountered, and to their families, is that his is also a story of tough upbringing, thus under the greatest influence of his grandfather, who he says left the greatest legacy.

Fortunately, on one hand was that this upbringing was rural, and he loved nothing better than to be told only to be back by dark as spare time was filled with such things as eeling, but on the other hand that his grandfather was a principled man who believed everyone had a right to an opportunity and a helping hand.