Mike Bush says an encounter with a policeman when he was eight years old taught him the value of giving young offenders a second chance.
In an interview with US media, former Police Commissioner Bush also discussed the Christchurch mosque shooter's sentence and the catastrophic 2004 Boxing Day tsunami.
Bush spoke at length with Chuck Rosenberg on MSNBC podcast The Oath.
Previous interview subjects on The Oath have included former FBI Director Robert Mueller, and supersonic fighter aircraft pilot Heather Penney.
Rosenberg, a former high-ranking FBI and Drug Enforcement Agency official, described Bush as a "visionary" law enforcement professional.
Bush stepped down from the top job in April.
He said his uncle Roger, a police dog handler, was the only cop he knew growing up - with one exception.
"My brother and I and a friend of mine got ourselves into a spot of bother," he told Rosenberg.
"And one evening, the police car turned up in the driveway, and I've never been so fearful in all my life."
Bush told the podcast he'd stolen lollies at a stock car stadium.
He said the policeman's authoritative but kind demeanour greatly influenced him.
"He made me stand and he made me explain my actions and then explained to me the consequences of those actions, and the consequences if I ever did that sort of thing again."
Ten years later, in 1978, Bush was a Police College graduate and working as a young constable in the Bay of Plenty.
In 1983, he was caught drink-driving and was fined $250 and disqualified from driving for six months.
But as the Herald previously reported, Bush's bosses gave him another chance after the foolhardy event.
He worked as a detective in Auckland and Kaitaia, moving up the ranks and down to Wellington to be officer in charge of Interpol by 1995.
Nine years later, Bush was a liaison officer in Thailand when the Boxing Day tsunami struck in 2004.
He told Rosenberg the New Zealand embassy in Bangkok called him and he flew to Phuket to see if he could help.
A base was set up at a hall in Phuket.
"I opened the doors and literally thousands of people descended upon us ... that'd lost their parents, that lost their relatives, that lost their friends," he told The Oath.
"And it was only then that we appreciated the magnitude."
A few years later, Bush was back in New Zealand when the kidnapping for ransom of 5-year-old girl Cina Ma shocked the nation.
Barricaded in a small walk-in wardrobe, Cina was bound, and her mouth taped shut.
Deqiong Deng, a 26-year-old real estate agent, left her with a bucket for a toilet.
Bush told The Oath surveillance identified an address where Cina might've been.
He said he sent staff there, not knowing what police would find. An anxious wait followed before he rang a unit commander to ask what was happening.
Bush said the commander told him police found Cina. She was alive.
"I said, 'Why? Why didn't you ring me immediately?' And he said, 'I was too emotional. I couldn't talk'."
Bush said the commander's actions showed him police officers really cared.
The former Commissioner also discussed the murder of Auckland hairdresser Marie Jamieson.
The 23-year-old's naked body was found behind a West Auckland factory in February 2001.
"The officers that worked on that inquiry never gave up," Bush told The Oath.
Eventually, Joseph Reekers was caught after his DNA was found on a stolen salami.
Reekers' sample matched a DNA sample found on Jamieson's body. In 2010, Reekers was sentenced to life in prison with a non-parole period of 15 years.
Bush said the tragic case showed the value of collecting DNA samples from criminals.
Bush also shared his views on the March 15 terrorist attacks.
"You feel the grief of every one of those people. 51 people died on that day. 75 people were seriously injured."
Bush told Rosenberg he'd always remember the horror of hearing the shooter was live-streaming the killings.
"What he did to those innocent people who were going about the prayer - adults, children, family members - we should all ensure that that never occurs again."
The terrorist was sentenced on August 27 to spend the rest of his life behind bars without any possibility of parole.
Bush told Rosenberg it was good to know the terrorist will never "see the light of day".
Police often decline to comment on court sentences.
"Now that I'm not the police commissioner, I can say...that sentence was received by the entire country as absolutely appropriate."
Bush also discussed how police were sometimes slammed for giving first-time offenders a second chance.
He told Rosenberg some "naysayers" wanted police to prosecute everyone who may have committed a minor offence.
Bush said it was important to concentrate resources on the people doing the most harm.
"Like I had when I was an eight year-old, you don't want to automatically put them on that justice cycle where they end up in jail."
"And if you can prevent, particularly young people about getting into that justice cycle, then do everything you can to do that."