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.

The Timaru Herald - - COMMENT&OPINION -

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.’’

PHOTO: DOUG FIELD/ STUFF

It will be plain clothes all the time for Steve Wills af­ter he wraps up his polic­ing ca­reer on Mon­day.

PHOTO: MYTCHALL BRANSGROVE/ STUFF

Steve Wills, pic­tured in 2014 af­ter re­ceiv­ing his fifth brav­ery award.

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