Wills calls time after 25 years on the beat
After 25 years in the New Zealand Police, Timaru cop and district councillor Steve Wills is leaving the force and looking ahead to new challenges. He sat down with reporter Al Williams to talk about a quarter of a century on the beat.
Following a nasty mountain bike accident, Senior Constable Steve Wills had a revelation.
After 25 years in the police, it was time for a change. On Monday, the Timaru District councillor, family violence co-ordinator, and newly appointed White Ribbon Ambassador will put on his police uniform for the final time.
Wills won’t say what he is going to do next - or whether he has his eyes on Timaru’s mayoralty - but he is forthcoming about the past several months and the time he has had to reflect following a mountain bike accident at Caroline Bay earlier this year.
Wills says he was biking with Timaru Mayor Damon Odey when he hit a concrete wall, which led to surgery and significant medical work on one of his shoulders.
He was off work for several months. ‘‘The world is full of opportunities, as one door closes, the other one opens,’’ Wills says.
‘‘It’s the result of the accident and having a break from policing,’’ he says of his decision to call it quits after 25 years.
‘‘I was able to reflect, as my two kids have grown older, the daughter, 17, is off to university next year and the boy is 14. I’ve just realised that policing has been a major part of my family’s lives.’’
A Timaru native and former Timaru College student, Wills spent time working in casinos in Perth before returning home and joining the police in 1992.
He has a long list of achievements in the force - in 2014 he was recognised for bravery on the job after helping intervene at a police callout when a man was threatening himself and others with a box cutting knife outside the Northtown Tavern in Timaru
After Tasers failed to disarm the man, Wills, who was initially at another job, tackled the man to the ground. At the time, Wills said as a police officer ‘‘you are assessing and evaluating the situation the whole time, looking for a window of opportunity’’.
Wills had previously received a silver merit award for his service as part of the first police contingent in East Timor and a Canterbury Earthquake citation for work during the national emergency stage of the February 2011 earthquake in Christchurch.
His role as a member of the armed offenders squad twice received recognition - for his role in an incident at Claremont in 1998 in which the offender had threatened to kill a woman, and in February 2009 when a young couple who were armed and on the run from police were apprehended near Palmerston.
Timaru was in the midst of a gang war during the early stages of his career and he was called into tactical duties. The town faced open conflict between two groups; the Devil’s Henchmen and the Road Knights.
‘‘I progressed into tactical duties, dealing with drugs in the mid 90s, a follow on from Operation Shovel,’’ Wills says.
‘‘It was just a new challenge to gain an insight into another part of policing and on another group that was having a major impact on South Canterbury.
‘‘There were shootings, cars being set on fire and clashes between gang members.’’
Operation Shovel was ‘‘a specific group targeting gang members’’, he says. ‘‘I went from there to community liaison officer.
‘‘From there you are dealing with a lot of community problems that police staff might not have time to deal with.’’
He says community policing was about ‘‘extending myself into the community’’.
There was change in terms of family violence policing, and the legislation surrounding it, around the turn of the century, Wills says.
Police were given extended powers through police safety orders, Will says.
‘‘It was a result of police and community expectation, and the recognition of the massive impact family violence has on our society as a whole.
‘‘It was recognised that more government, more police and NGO (non government organisations) resources were required.
‘‘It (family violence) was pretty much behind closed doors and it had a major impact on workplace, educational facilities and children going to school.
‘‘The ability for police to use police safety orders gave police the decision and didn’t require the victim to make the decision, so police were then able to effect the intervention.’’ Will says his family violence co-ordinator role gave him ‘‘a real insight into human being’’.
‘‘I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly.
‘‘You get to deal with people with trauma, and every person will react in a variety of different ways; you can’t box anyone into a category.’’
Wills also had a role in the armed offenders squad between 1995 and 2013.
‘‘There has been quite a change with the armed offenders in terms of on call and off call,’’ he says. being a real
‘‘In the early days you were on call 24/7 but that has been split into on and off shifts.
‘‘The armed offenders is a unique group of people who are very tight. They receive extensive training but not all training prepares them for what might unfold.’’
Will says ‘‘now is the time to grow into other roles’’. ‘‘Now is the time to find new challenges, it’s been massive to make the decision to leave the police and it hasn’t been an easy decision. ‘‘It has involved some real in depth discussions with my family,’’ he says.
Wills served as a police officer under the United Nations in East Timor for several months, as civil war broke out in 1999.
‘‘My wife was pregnant at the time,’’ he says.
‘‘When you arrive home you don’t realise the impact of these experiences.’’ Will says social media is now having a major impact on policing. ‘‘I think what happens now is that what people are putting on social media can assist or derail an investigation and inquiries.’’
He says there is a lot more transparency in society now.
‘‘On a personal level South Canterbury is in a really good place as we have one of the lowest levels of criminal offences in New Zealand.
‘‘We used to be considered a wild wild west town. There has been a massive transition as Timaru is a safe and enjoyable place to raise a family.
‘‘I think we really are a sleeping giant.’’
It will be plain clothes all the time for Steve Wills after he wraps up his policing career on Monday.
Steve Wills, pictured in 2014 after receiving his fifth bravery award.