Back in the days when I ran nightclubs and had a number of what might best be described as "dodgy" friends, there were two police stations those "in the know" avoided tangling with if at all possible: Auckland Central, and Rotorua.

Because coming to the attention of the Task Force from Central or the patrols in Rotorua could end painfully for whoever got nabbed - whether there were charges filed, or not.

Certainly the old Leadbelly blues line "if you ever go to Houston, boy you better walk right" was paraphrased on the street about Rotorua at the time Clint Rickards, Brad Shipton, Bob Schollum, John Dewar - and Wally Haumaha - were stationed there.
Was the environment toxic?

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Well, Shipton and Schollum were later convicted of rape, Dewar (then head of the Rotorua CIB) of attempting to pervert the course of justice, and Rickards accused but acquitted, with the first two, of the rape of Louise Nicholas.

New deputy commissioner Haumaha was a senior sergeant and close friends with the others, defending them during the Operation Austin investigation into practices at the station and later telling another officer, Lynton Dean, Nicholas' accusations were "nonsense" and adding, "nothing really happened and we have to stick together".

The fact those comments were not made known to Police Minister Stuart Nash before he recommended Haumaha for his new position has prompted a government inquiry. I'm not trying to bag Haumaha as such.

He may well be the changed man he claims to be who now regrets those comments, and certainly everyone deserves a chance to be rehabilitated no matter their past.

But police need to operate, and be judged, at a higher standard.

While Operation Austin and a Commission of Inquiry led by Dame Margaret Bazley exposed hundreds of sexual misconduct complaints against police and led to widespread changes in the force, it's notable that Rickards became an assistant commissioner and then Auckland commander.

And now, Haumaha is promoted.

At which point one has to ask, have things really changed or is "hard man" mindset still rising to the top?

Look, the police in general do a tough and often harrowing service and, given the incidents they have to deal with, no-one could be surprised if sometimes individuals are brutalised by the task.

But it's also true that sometimes a certain type of person is attracted to the uniform for the wrong reasons, and while vetting procedures these days hopefully weed most of that sort out, three or four decades back some of the men in outfits like Auckland's Task Force were, in the words of a close friend who quit the force for just this reason, "oafish bastards".

Haumaha may now work hard to reform the toxic culture he was once embroiled in, and good on him, but to be appointed as a commissioner his background should be spotless. It isn't.

Bruce Bisset is a freelance writer and poet. Views expressed are the writer's opinion and not the newspaper's.