When Rob Rattenbury started jotting down some family history for his kids, he never dreamed it would lead to publishing a book.

But, after about a year of dedicating time to compiling memories, the former police officer known as Rats has published So You Want To Be A Cop....

"It's a mix up of a family and police memoir," Rob says.

Rob shares his memories of being a police officer in <i>So You Want To Be A Cop...</i>
Rob shares his memories of being a police officer in So You Want To Be A Cop...

"The family stuff explains some of my attitudes as a cop. I was probably more accepting of people's differences than some of my colleagues. I grew up in a rough neighbourhood and Dad was part–Māori. Unlike a lot of other Catholic families, we were allowed to mix with any kids as long as they went to church. There were some kids we weren't allowed to mix with though.

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"My parents had an interesting relationship. Dad was gay or bisexual and would disappear for days. I grew up not knowing that. I was born out of wedlock and Dad was still married to his first wife. My parents lived a double life that had outcomes of a lot of alcohol and a lot of violence that we grew up with.

"It wasn't unusual for our parents' generation. They grew up after World War I with trauma then there was the Depression then war again. There was no counselling for soldiers so they got on to the booze and supported each other. So there were a lot of messed-up people around.

"I wrote about that to try and explain some things about me and my siblings and why we have had some issues over the years with non-serious mental health issues.

"It's only later on in life that you look back and realise how hard it must have been trying to keep that quiet and not let people find out [about his father's sexuality]."

Rob decided about 10 years ago to start putting together a family history for his and wife Jenny's adult children, Jodie and Luke, but it was never intended to be part of a book.

"Jen does genealogy and tracked down my ancestors. I started writing a folder about where the kids came from, their English and Irish backgrounds and descent from Ngāti Mutunga through my grandmother. They were working people, not famous, people of the land, factory workers, a lot of soldiers.

"I'm the only generation who hasn't served in the armed forces, right back to the Land Wars."

The next generation has continued the armed forces tradition with Luke serving in the Army before following in his father's footsteps and joining the New Zealand Police. He is now an instructor at New Zealand Police College. Jodie lives in Whanganui and is a rehabilitation coach for people with traumatic brain injury, another field close to Rob's heart.

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Rob left school and home in 1970 aged 17 to join the now-defunct Police Cadets, a group he describes in the book as "a life form somewhere level with a police dog's knee".

He graduated in August 1971 and began working as a police officer in Lower Hutt.

It was the beginning of a career that included Royal tour duties, being on the frontline in the 1981 Springbok tour, training New Zealand's first bomb detector dog and heading Whanganui's Armed Offenders Squad (AOS), as well as the usual range of police duties.

Sideburns ruled at Rob's CIB induction course in 1975.
Sideburns ruled at Rob's CIB induction course in 1975.
Rob receives his Sergeant's certificate.
Rob receives his Sergeant's certificate.
Rob was proud to finally get his Senior Sergeant crown sewn on his sleeve.
Rob was proud to finally get his Senior Sergeant crown sewn on his sleeve.

"When I was a copper, we would be driving away from a job and say 'no-one would believe this'. Now and then one of us would say we would write a book about it.

"I have a mind that's quite retentive about stuff so I decided to start writing some of the stories."

The stories in the book range from serious crimes to more light-hearted tales.

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One of the most emotional for Rob is about the death of Whanganui Detective Tony Harrod who fell while suspended under a helicopter during a cannabis clearing operation in December 1990.

Rob, who was running the operation that day from the police station, was one of the team which flew in to recover Harrod's body. After some very emotional scenes on the hillside where Harrod fell, his body was flown to the morgue where Rob undertook the required mortuary procedure for his mate. When he eventually got back to the police station, "the place was in an uproar" with staff devastated by Harrod's death.

One of the humorous stories, Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men, also involved cannabis but had a happier ending.

"We heard there was a truck loaded with cannabis coming out of the backblocks of Paparangi," Rob said.

"We didn't know exactly where they were so cops went in from both ends and me and my offsider caught them. They were in a three ton truck stacked with bales of cannabis.

"After the [court] hearing, we burned the dope in the police station incinerator on a day when the library was open up the hill. A lot of very happy people were walking around that day."

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Along with another cop, Rob found himself in the international media spotlight during Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales' visit to New Zealand in 1983.

Police had been told that activist Nathan Dun Mihaka was planning a whakapohane (baring of the buttocks) when the Royals arrived in Wellington.

"We had been briefed about it and the need for some sensitivity if he carried it out," Rob said.

As the Royal motorcade left Wellington airport, Rob and another officer saw a man dressed in a piupiu and Rob recognised him as Dun Mihaka. They put him on the ground and arrested him.

The only people, other than police and Mihaka's supporters, who saw what happened were the international media entourage. Their photos went around the world.

"It was the biggest incident of the tour with questions being asked about how 'dangerous natives' can be allowed to approach so closely to the Royals.

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"Dun later published a book about the incident and sent me a copy."

The 1990 Commonwealth Games brought more Royal duties, with Rob part of a team of AOS members that trained throughout 1989 to supplement the Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) in protecting Queen Elizabeth II, the Duke of Edinburgh and other members of the Royal family.

"We were trained in the use of automatic weapons, tactics, house clearing and driving offensively as part of a motorcade. We had to shadow any Royal motorcade and reinforce ATS staff involved in any armed incident or attack on the Royals."

The Games went without incident and their services were not required.

While he was based in Wellington, Rob became one of three explosive detector dog handlers.

He was allocated Dyna (short for Dynamite) when she was 18 months old and trained her to detect explosives. Later the dogs were trained to also detect firearms and ammunition. Because they were based in Wellington, they spent a lot of time as part of Prime Minister Robert Muldoon's security team at Parliament and Vogel House and also travelled around New Zealand with the Prime Minister.

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Rob and Dyna were one of New Zealand's first three explosive dectector dog teams.
Rob and Dyna were one of New Zealand's first three explosive dectector dog teams.

Rob, Jenny and the children moved to Whanganui in 1983.

Jenny continued her nursing career and Rob worked in the Whanganui Police uniform and CIB branches. In 1988 he was promoted to Senior Sergeant. He was a member of the AOS for seven years, involved in about 100 "live operations", and ran the squad for five of them. He spent many years working in court as the police prosecutor.

Rob kitted out with the then latest technology during an Armed Offenders Squad callout in Tregenna St.
Rob kitted out with the then latest technology during an Armed Offenders Squad callout in Tregenna St.
Police officer Ian Kerrisk (right) with Rob on an Armed Offenders Squad exercise in New Plymouth in 1985.
Police officer Ian Kerrisk (right) with Rob on an Armed Offenders Squad exercise in New Plymouth in 1985.

In 1992, Rob decided he'd had enough.

"It wasn't any one thing, I just burned out basically.

"In the 1980s and '90s cops didn't have counselling. It was just starting to come in but you went very quietly so people wouldn't know. Instead we'd go upstairs, get shitfaced in the bar and go home.

"I write about the process of realising you can't do it any more. You have done too much death, seen too much violence, you're sick to death of the politics of the police and it's time to move on. You're not sleeping and slowly sinking into a depressive period."

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He also acknowledges the impact on police officers' families.

"It's tough being a cop but harder being a partner of a cop and a child of a cop. You're expected to live a certain lifestyle and behave a certain way. It affects how you get treated at school, especially in smaller towns. I asked Jodie a while ago how it was having a cop for a dad and she said it was okay but that some girls at school were bitches to her because members of their families had been arrested or were in prison."

After leaving the police, Rob began a second career with ACC.

"I was 39 so I was young enough to go out and do something else."

Rob started with ACC as a fraud liaison officer. He became a case manager and then moved into the national serious injury service, working with clients with brain injury, spinal cord injury and other serious long-term injuries.

He has fond memories of his police career and the people he worked with, many of them lifelong friends. His wing of the Police Cadets still has a reunion every five years with people coming from around the world to attend.

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"What would I say to a young person thinking about becoming a cop? I reckon it's a brilliant job. It's the best job a young person could do to give back to his or her community if they have a bent for working with people who don't look after themselves that well and they don't want to be a social worker.

"And if you like a bit of rough and tough – it's not a job for people who aren't physically active. You have to be very fit, accepting of people's differences and choices, you have to be a good listener and try not to be a bully.

"It's a great organisation. I think New Zealand Police is the best police department in the world. It's the least corrupt force as far as I'm concerned. It's mostly unarmed and I don't want that to change but it probably will. It's so much more violent than when I was doing it.

"Until the 1990s it was a real struggle to be a female cop. It was a fairly conservative organisation and it's now so much better. I would like to see it 50/50 [female and male]. Females have more strengths than males when it comes to some aspects of police work.

"It can be a life career but it gives you skills you can take to any other workplace if you decide policing is too small for you."

So You Want To Be A Cop..., published by Rangitawa Publishing in Feilding, is available for purchase on Kindle, Amazon.com, Rangitawapublishing.com or contact Rob directly via Messenger or email randjrattenbury@xtra.co.nz if you would like to order an autographed copy.

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Officers Garry Patterson (left), Harry Reid (right) and Rob Rattenbury (rear) after a rescue on the Whanganui River.
Officers Garry Patterson (left), Harry Reid (right) and Rob Rattenbury (rear) after a rescue on the Whanganui River.