Inspector Gary Davey said he would stand down as Waitakere area commander after a meeting with senior staff.

Figures shown at the meeting revealed that nearly one-third of Waitakere officers were considered "not engaged" in their work.

The nationwide poll was broken down by area and showed Waitakere had one of the worst staff "engagement" results in the country.

In an unprecedented move for someone so senior, Mr Davey then said he would stand down because of the poor survey results.

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Several officers at the Monday meeting felt Mr Davey was made a scapegoat for the "abysmal" poll results and urged him to stay.

Mr Davey declined to comment yesterday and referred to a media statement released by Waitemata district commander Superintendent Bill Searle.

The statement did not answer questions about the survey results but Mr Searle said Mr Davey, who is a qualified lawyer, had asked to be shifted to the police legal section and would relinquish his more than two-year command "by agreement".

"In this time he's achieved some excellent results and has enjoyed the confidence of the Waitakere community. I wish him well in his new role."

News of Mr Davey's departure met a mixed reception from police officers in West Auckland, where he was a polarising leader.

"He certainly rubbed some people up the wrong way ... but some of them needed a kick up the backside," one told the Herald.

Mr Davey was the public face of a huge police search for Aisling Symes, 2, who disappeared from her West Auckland home in October 2009.

Police feared that she had been abducted, and Mr Davey spoke to the media daily urging the assumed kidnapper to come forward.

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He was praised for the professional yet sensitive way he handled the pressure, but was later criticised for publicly ruling out the possibility that Aisling had fallen into a drain.

Police had searched the drain several times, but Aisling was eventually found in the pipe after eight days.

Mr Davey conducted several internal investigations into Waitakere staff, some of which led to criminal charges.

This put him offside with some police who felt he should have supported them or their colleagues in dealing with public complaints.