Wairarapa's top cop has lost her battle with cancer.

Inspector Donna Howard died on Tuesday night after being diagnosed late last year.

She will be remembered for her hands-on approach to policing, attention to detail and her work on some of the country's most horrific child killings.

Howard's career with police spanned 27 years and included deployments to the Soloman Islands and East Timor.


She took on the role as Wairarapa's area commander in early 2016.

Howard's police profile said she had a close knit group of friends she liked to go cycling and swimming with.

"She has competed in several half-Ironmans, challenging herself to overcome her fear of swimming in open water."

Police Association president Chris Cahill said he completed his inspector's qualification with Howard, and described her as a "straight shooter".

"That's what's made her so successful: she had that attention to detail but she knew how to get things done and could work together with people on that."

Cahill said Howard worked on a number of significant homicide investigations, like the Coral Burrows case.

"She did say those horrific child deaths were ones that stayed with her the most."

Police Commissioner Mike Bush said her death would be keenly felt by the police community.

Carterton Mayor John Booth said he was deeply saddened to hear of Howard's death.

"It's happened rather quickly and it's a huge loss to first her family and a huge loss to our community."

He said Howard was a hands-on police officer who helped him keep Carterton's small police station open and manned.

Booth said Howard was also a driving force behind the move to set up a boxing academy for young people in Wairarapa.