Oamaru-born police sergeant Steve Watt is the new New Zealand Police Association southern region director.
Sgt Watt, who was voted into the role last month, said advocacy was the most important aspect of his new job.
Representing Southern, one of seven regions in which the New Zealand Police Association is divided, he covers from Oamaru south.
“The biggest service we offer is advocacy and support for our members as they go through their policing career. It’s a fantastic career, but it can be a challenging career at times,” he said.
“So when they’re facing tough times, the association will step in and support our members and help them through that period of stress.”
In his 21 years in policing, Sgt Watt said the job had become increasingly stressful due to violence escalating in society and towards police.
“Obviously the police are working on a number of initiatives, mainly the Frontline Safety Improvement Programme, to try and alleviate those pressures, and the association is working with the police to make sure that we get the best outcome for our members through that process.”
When Sgt Watt was not tied up with his union work, he was in charge of youth and community policing in Queenstown, where he has been based for 13 years. His wife Lisa, is a police detective there, and they have two children, aged 9 and 7.
Sgt Watt grew up in Oamaru, and was deputy head boy at Waitaki Boys’ High School. Looking back on his school career, he remembered being part of a winning team in the Jaycees national debating competition in his 7th form year. The opposition was a team from Morrinsville College with a strong leader – a young Jacinda Ardern.
“Waitaki Boys’ was in the final – the three of us – and Jacinda was in the opposing team. We managed to give her a good thrashing on that occasion,” he said.
Following high school, Sgt Watt managed to “snaffle a degree” at Otago University, before deciding to join the police. He underwent a “baptism of fire” in his first posting in Rotorua.
“So I made my way from little old Oamaru up to Rotorua, and then slowly moved my way back down to Queenstown.”
He tried to visit Oamaru when he could. His mother and father still lived in the North Otago town.
“It’s always nice to come home, isn’t it,” he said.
Queenstown was a great place to be a police officer, but Covid-19 had been particularly challenging for the tourist town.
“It’s certainly been tough for a lot of people here. But the town itself is surviving. We keep chugging along.
“It is a beautiful part of the country and crime isn’t as prevalent here as in other places, so we’re very lucky in that respect.”
The part he enjoyed most about his job was the camaraderie.
“Policing is one big family, and the association is the same.”