Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Highest Police honour bestowed on retiring officer

Senior Sergeant Mark Gregory Davidson has retired from New Zealand Police after more than 50 years of operational service.

In 45 years on Dog Section, his most outstanding contribution was developing the capability of specialist groups – including Dogs, the Armed Offenders Squad (AOS), and Special Tactics Group (STG) – over many decades.

During his service he received the Charles Upham Award, a Royal Humane Society Bronze Medal and Police Gold Merit Award for bravery – and, in 2006, the Queen’s Service Medal (QSM) for his role in leading training and deployment of police dogs and his community involvement with Kāpiti Coastguard.

This week it was announced that he will receive the New Zealand Police Meritorious Service Medal – the highest award the Commissioner can bestow – for his lifetime of service. 

Mark and some of his dogs. From left: with Bede, his second operational dog; with Grizz after receipt of the Charles Upham Award; with the incomparable Ike, who Mark adopted after Ike’s retirement; and with breeding bitch Vinnie, from Mark’s time based at Palmerston North.

​“In some respects you forget how long you’ve been here. It doesn’t feel like ages ago. It never really has. Time’s just flown by and that’s because it’s been bloody enjoyable,” says Mark.

He joined Police in the Ted Hotham cadet wing at just 17 years of age.

“I’m immensely proud of the fact that I was a cadet. Cadets came into Police really young. We lived at Trentham for 18 months whereas the recruits who were older, could graduate after three.”

On completing the cadetship, Mark went to Christchurch as a temporary, probationary constable.

He wasn’t old enough to drink, but was in pubs enforcing the liquor laws. He didn’t have any real experience in relationships but was fumbling his way through giving marriage advice to people twice his age, he recalls.

Mark with Charles Upham VC after becoming the second person to receive the Upham Award for Bravery, for his heroics on the Wellington Hospital roof.

In his early years as a dog handler, Mark put himself in considerable danger to prevent the suicide of a young person on the roof of Wellington Public Hospital in 1981. Ten years later in 1991, Mark overpowered, disarmed, and subdued a man who had shot and killed a person in the Hutt Valley.

The awards received for such incidents are, he says, “the result of me following the advice from Alf – just being a dog handler”.

And by “just being a dog handler”, Mark was able to lead, develop, and innovate courses both here and abroad – including an avalanche course which was the first of its kind in New Zealand.

“We had marvellous times up in the mountains doing avalanche training. Then came a couple of operations – one where we found a victim’s body within seconds of the dogs being deployed.”

He says there are not many days over the past 50 years that he hasn’t enjoyed the job.

“The times I haven’t enjoyed is when something’s happened that’s involved one of my people, and they’ve been in positions where they’ve had to do something criticised or complained about, or we’ve made a mistake. You take the responsibility of that on yourself.”

“Nowadays I prefer to listen to the stories of our young handlers. Their stories are much more enjoyable because they’re current and told with enthusiasm.

“You just have to see the enjoyment in their faces and hear it in their voice. It’s incredible!

The final parade – Wellington Dog Section handed Mark back to wife Pene and their whānau at a formal parade at the Ngauranga Dog Base on his last day. (Photo: Jed Bradley)

“Coming into retirement, people have said: ‘Think of all the things you can do now!’ But being part of Police has never stopped me from doing anything.

“It didn’t stop me from racing jetboats, joining the Coastguard and getting a skipper’s qualification. It didn’t stop me from running Elite tours or being the manager at Ōrongorongo Lodge, which I used to do between night shifts.”

Mark enjoyed these ventures because they were so different to policing. But on one occasion, with the King and Queen of Sweden visiting the lodge, he turned to Police staff to help.

“Mate, who knew the best waiters you could ever have, were a bunch of Police people being hoity toity? They did fantastically!”

Last year, Mark handed over the OC Wellington AOS role and stopped being on call after many years.

“The phone wasn’t going at night. It was a strange feeling, so it took a bit of getting used to. It certainly doesn’t worry me now,” he says.

“I have no bloody idea what retirement is. I know what my wife thinks it is – travelling and all sorts of stuff. I don’t really enjoy travelling, I’m too impatient to queue, and I don’t like flying – too much time spent sitting.”

One thing Mark is most certain of is that there’ll be no dogs in his retirement.

He says police dogs are magnificent in what they can do but they are working dogs and need regime and a healthy distance. And, of course, he’ll miss them.

“You get so used to doing everything with the dog, even telling them stupid things and later thinking, ‘I can’t believe I just told my dog that’.”

The stories the dogs would have to tell if only they could talk.

“Too many bloody stories to tell,” Mark laughs.

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