Policing in Solomons sharpens skills for NZ
Working in the third-world policing environment of the Solomon Islands changed Marie Kerr’s perception of the force in New Zealand.
The born-and-bred Waikato sergeant was there to advise and mentor police in Bougainville for six months of last year. She had no police powers, yet she saw how poorly equipped police staff there were.
‘‘Police staff here complain about things, sometimes legitimately, because they don’t know the other side of it,’’ Kerr said.
‘‘In the Solomons they literally struggle to have a pen, a notebook, a white board, or a marker for the white board. I think if you can learn to manage and lead people who don’t have anything, in a different environment, then it helps you lead and manage people here.’’
Kerr, who is the proud aunt of Chiefs player and All Black Tawera Kerr-Barlow, was officially recognised for her work in the Solomons at this month’s Waikato Police Pay Parade with an overseas deployment medal from Assistant Police Commissioner Alan Boreham.
While the island’s bloody history and society may at first glance seem vastly different from New Zealand , Kerr never felt in danger, and there were similarities, she says
Kerr, 53, grew up as the eldest female in a brood of five girls and four boys at Oparau, near Kawhia.
It was an active and outdoors childhood and the ‘‘lovely’’ children in the Solomons had a similar way of life, she says.
‘‘They’re outdoors, they’re playing, swimming, running around. They don’t have computers, and I’d take my laptop out to remote villages and put kids movies on and you’d have hundreds of them gathered around this 17-inch laptop.
‘‘There was no fighting. The little ones would get in the front and the medium-sized ones and big ones in the back and the adults behind them, because it was something new.’’
A big part of what Kerr managed to accomplish there can be traced back to her parents who were hard workers – they had to be with nine children. And it rubbed off on her. Kerr likes to stay busy.
Since she was a girl she wanted to be a nurse and a policewoman. After graduating from Te Awamutu College she completed her nurses training at Middlemore Hospital. Following a stint overseas, she flew home and joined the police force at age 28.
Today she’s accomplished in both fields. On alternate weekends she nurses at the Anglesea Medical centre while holding down a nine-to-five job managing 10 staff at Hamilton Central Police Station. Her team prepares all prosecution files for court. She has also worked as a general duties officer, in surveillance and as intel section manager, among others.
Both skills proved useful on Bougainville. She treated many patients, including the police watchhouse keeper, whose leg was badly infected and ‘‘a great big abscess’’ had developed. After a hospital nurse said he would probably have to have the leg amputated Kerr made her own sterile saline solution and dressed the man’s wound every day and fed him up on protein.
Eight weeks later the man’s leg had healed completely.
Home turf: Sergeant Marie Kerr says her time on Bougainville in the Solomon Islands improved her policing skills back in New Zealand.