If you're in Tūrangi and see a police officer on a mountain bike, chances are it's the town's newish community constable.

Constable John Malpas, 35, has quickly become known locally as a cop on a bike and says getting around on two wheels is "just another way of policing a small town".

"You can cover a big area and it's more personal ... I haven't had to chase too many people on the bike yet but it'll come."

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John, 35, came to Tūrangi in November last year, attracted to the area by the fishing and tramping opportunities, as well as the chance to buy a house without breaking the bank.

Prior to working in Tūrangi he had been a community constable in Huntly.

But his policing career hasn't been a linear one. John first did a business degree at university before joining the New Zealand Police at age 21 - "I had my 21st birthday on the first day of Police College."

But after policing on the frontlines in Hamilton, John says he got the seven-year itch. He decided to try something else and became a law foundation course teacher at Toi Ohomai (formerly Bay of Plenty Polytech).

He did that for five years before deciding to return to policing.

"Teaching was a pretty good experience but after five years I thought I still had a little bit more to give back."

He returned to the police just inside the time limit that would have otherwise seen him have to go through the entire Police College new intake course, although he did have to do some of the training online and also re-sit the final Police College exam.

After becoming a sworn officer again, John was sent to Huntly, an often-maligned town, but a posting he says he really enjoyed.

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"It has a lot of challenges ... there was a lot of scope to make change and do a lot of good and that was cool.

"There was a lot of inter-gang fighting [in Huntly], here [in Tūrangi] it's more peaceful. I haven't seen another town where the police can go to the gang leaders and have a conversation with them.

"It's a small community and it's a bit tighter-knit and there are a lot of relations here within the community whereas Huntly is obviously a bit bigger."

Tūrangi man Jamie Tahau and community constable John Malpas have a catchup outside New World. Photo / Laurilee McMichael
Tūrangi man Jamie Tahau and community constable John Malpas have a catchup outside New World. Photo / Laurilee McMichael

A keen angler, John says he has always spent winters fishing in Tūrangi and felt an affiliation with the town as well as being attracted by the lifestyle and community.

"I guess unless you've spent a bit of time in Tūrangi you probably don't really know what it has to offer and because I've been here most winters I know what's around.

"It's a great lifestyle, it really is, it's fantastic. You've got the mountains behind us and the lakes just over there and the best fishing in the world, we're pretty spoilt and it's got a cool relaxed vibe about it."

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That's not to say that policing in Tūrangi, like every other town, doesn't have its own challenges. John often has to work alone but says "it is what it is".

He generally has the luxury of working weekdays unless a frontline staff member is away, in which case he will cover for them.

He laughs when asked to describe exactly what it is a community constable does which he jokes is walking around town talking to people, although of course it is much more serious than that.

"It's very prevention-focused. My role is to look at the underlying causes of problems within the town and the community and solve them so things don't recur."

As part of that, John keeps a visible presence around town on his bike or on foot, following up on community issues. It can be warring neighbours, people worried about their cats, or resolving an ongoing issue.

He struggles to come up with a definition saying when he hears about something that's going on, he immediately knows whether it's a community issue.

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John says most of the time he's able to help those with the issue to resolve it.

'It's about communication. It's about trying to listen to both sides and then explaining both sides to both parties and trying to get a win-win for both parties ... it's just nice to be able to keep the peace and help. For some people these are frustrating events for them and it's nice for them to have someone come along and be able to help resolve the issue.

"Sometimes all people want is to be heard and if that's all it takes is for me to sit there and to listen to them and then give them some advice then I'm happy to do it."

Since his arrival, John has been building relationships with local organisations and agencies that help the community so police can support their work.

For instance, after hearing of Tūrangi Foodbank's concerns about demand for food, he drove to Hamilton to collect a ute load of food from Kaivolution, a Hamilton-based project which stops edible food waste, and delivered it to the Foodbank.

He has also, through contacts he made in Huntly, arranged for food and hygiene parcels for the Tūrangi community via the Christian organisation Rapid Relief Team.

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He says that kind of action is just part of his community role.

"I guess that part of the job is being a middle man and just trying to place resources into the hands of organisations and families that need it."

* If you have a Tūrangi community concern you'd like to discuss with John, you can contact him at john.malpas@police.govt.nz
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