Polic­ing in Solomons sharp­ens skills for NZ

Taranaki Daily News - - News -

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.

Photo: PETER DRURY/FAIR­FAX NZ

Home turf: Sergeant Marie Kerr says her time on Bougainville in the Solomon Is­lands im­proved her polic­ing skills back in New Zealand.

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