Newly appointed Commissioner of Police Andrew Coster has been with the force since 1997 and is now responsible for close to 14,000 staff nationwide. His police career has seen him serve in frontline and investigative roles in Counties Manukau, Auckland and Dunedin. To set an example to staff, his beard came off this weekend.
I didn't know what I wanted to do when I finished school so I went into the workforce rather than tertiary education. I was a sales consultant for Blue Star selling business telephone systems. I was doing very well, but I got to a point where I felt intensely dissatisfied and, within about two and a half months I was at Police College in Porirua. I'd never aspired to join the police but at age 20 I felt a strong sense of a calling, a drive to perform a public service, to make a difference.
I had a privileged upbringing and, within a couple of weeks of graduating from Police College, I was stationed at Mangere. Seeing the way some people lived was an incredible eye-opener and, at times, very depressing. I was 21 and my life experiences hadn't shown me that side of life but, in a quick space of time, I saw how desperate the need was in those communities. I also learned that the police often see the worst parts of people's lives, the times when they're really struggling, and that's why good policing is vital, to ensure that justice is available to all and people can access the help they need to be safe.
I started with the police before I had children. I now have three boys, and I think I'd find it much harder now to deal with some of the scenes I saw as a detective. Because our people do really tough work, it's important that we, as an organisation, support each other and provide safe places for staff to express what they're going through. The other side to that, it's easy to become quite hard and it can be difficult to have the most appropriate response if you just look at a snapshot of a person's life, victim or offender, and possibly lose sight of the context of where that person is. When people offend, they're not at their best, so as police we need to take a wider view, then work with our partners to offer appropriate interventions.
After a year or two in the job, I had an opportunity to see a murder trial being prosecuted by the Crown. It looked really cool so I studied part-time for a law degree. It took over six years while I was also in the CIB in Counties Manukau. To be honest, I didn't make it to a lot of the lectures but I got hold of good notes and studied hard in my downtime.
It's been an incredible 12 months, when you think about the major events that have impacted this country. During the Christchurch event, I was responsible for the victims in the early stages. We had families who didn't know whether their loved one was caught up in it, and if so in what way? Were they injured and in hospital? Were they still in the mosque? We had to make sense of all that, on top of demands from international organisations, including other countries needing information on their citizens, and help the Government understand what support was needed and how to provide it. There was incredible pressure and what you saw of the police - whenever something like that happens - any pretense drops away and people just do what needs to be done. We can be very proud of the police response to the big events of recent times.
It was very satisfying to be a part of the Arms Amendment Act because making legislation is not a traditional police activity, we usually just enforce the law. I helped oversee the work that got that bill through the House in just days and we focused on a pretty simple concept which was getting a certain type of weapon out of circulation. During that time, I found myself regularly reading over the shoulder of the policy analysts who were writing the material and providing advice in a very dynamic way. We landed an act that was in very good shape and got it through in record time - even though it's the one of the least operational things I've done, it's one of the things I'm proudest of.
I wasn't privy to the fine machinations of the accused's guilty plea, but I imagine it would have been an incredible relief for the victims and I hope it brings some sense of closure for the people affected. The public will never see the amount of work the police prosecution team did to prepare that case, but they liaised with so many people to prepare that case to the highest standard.
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Burglary offences of dwellings probably cause the greatest impact to the greatest number of people. It's not the most serious crime, but it's disrupting and disconcerting to discover that someone has been in your home; but it's very hard to a burgle house with people in it so, during this lockdown period, we've seen a significant drop in residential burglaries. We're also being very attentive to things that happen to families under stress. Then there's mental health and whilst police are not necessarily the primary response for mental health, we are often the first responders in a crisis. This will be hard for everybody, but some will find it harder than others so we're looking at how to work with other agencies to help people get the support they need.
There's a sense of deliberate and purposeful calm around the way we're policing in this Covid situation. More than ever we are dependent on New Zealanders believing the police is going about this the right way, in light of what we're facing. The vast majority needs to buy into the controls being put in place by public health officials for us to be successful. It's a fine balance, but nearly all policing is reliant on community buy-in.
The key message during Level 4 is that we're in this together and we have a window to beat this thing. Our ability to deal with this virus will be due to all of us doing the right thing. Police will do our best to help people do that in a way that enables them to enjoy the maximum realistic freedoms during this time. We don't want to be heavy-handed, but when we need to, we'll deal with people who aren't doing the right thing, that way we can beat this rather than find ourselves dealing with a worse situation if it spreads more widely.
Our bubble is me, my wife and our three boys who are 15, 13 and 10. My family make a big sacrifice to let me go and I'm really blessed they're so supportive and see the importance of my job. Being recognised, I don't know what that will look like. It's not always easy for teenagers to have their dad in a high profile position, but the kids have great characters and I know they'll look out for each other. With my focus on work and family over the next five years, my hobbies will be secondary. I do enjoy motorcycling and hopefully I'll get my motorcycle to the racetrack now and then. I enjoy sports and I try to go to gym, when I can go, to keep my body and brain active. I've been in busy jobs for a long time, so it's not a new thing yet, with each one, there's a new layer of expectation, but I am very privileged to serve in this role.