Saturday, April 13, 2024

Signing off on 46 years of policing

Inside each of Police Sergeant Murray Stapp’s notebooks is a saying he has lived his policing life by: ‘Nothing is not your job’.

It’s a philosophy Sgt Stapp has always tried to embody during his 46 years in policing.

During his retirement speech at Hamilton Central, Sgt Stapp, who joined the Ministry of Transport (MoT) in 1974, recalled a case in his policing career where that value came to the fore.

After recovering from a car crash in 2012 that left him with a head injury, he was working in the Investigation Support Unit (ISU) and was tasked to take a statement from a complainant alleging a caregiver had defrauded an elderly man of $85,000 of his savings.

“These were people who had no time for Police – it was a real challenge giving this service to people and not knowing a lot about fraud,” he said.

The time five tonnes of rocks fell on Sgt Stapp’s patrol car during construction of the gorge to Cromwell.
Sgt Stapp stands by as workers dig the car out.

Sgt Stapp made five visits to the complainants, taking evidential statements before packaging up the case and sending it to Wellington for a detective to interview and arrest the offender. But the detective left, and the file ended up back in Waikato for trial preparation. Who was going to take it?

Sgt Stapp, by then a section sergeant, could have easily transferred the case – but with the help of Dave Grace he did all the Crown asked of him, and on the eve of the trial the offender pleaded guilty. In recognition of his efforts, the family gifted an engraved memento.

“That was the last time I had a tear in my eye on the job,” he said.

As he prepared for his farewell last week, Sgt Stapp took the memento out of his drawer and thought about what policing meant to him.

“I got out that medal and looked at it. I started thinking about Be first, then do – I thought that’s what it’s about. In that case I could have easily moved that file on, I know nothing about fraud – but I wasn’t going to let it go. It’s not terribly different to how I thought about the job on the whole.”

With the MoT, Murray worked his early years on the South Island and, after the amalgamation with Police, went on to be a beat cop.

On June 20, 1994, he was one of the first officers to arrive at the Bain household in Dunedin, where Robin and Margaret Bain and three of their four children were found dead. He cannot forget the cluttered and disheveled home. The rooms, and where the bodies lay.

“You think you’re not affected by those things, but you are. I remember by the end of that week, reliving it, again and again – I felt like I had the flu I was so rundown – that was the trauma of that.”

Throughout his career, Sgt Stapp has worked in general duties, has extensive experience in prosecutions and has undertaken overseas deployments to the Solomon Islands and Timor Leste.

During the early 90s, he left the South Island and headed north to Whangārei, where he worked as a section supervisor helping relieve at small stations to boost morale and improve processes in the Upper North.

Feeling like a change, Sgt Stapp and his wife moved to Waikato District in 2005. He called on his previous experience in prosecutions, doing secondments in the Hamilton courts.

He says after the 2012 car crash, his recovery was spurred by the support he received from fellow police officers. “I saw cops almost every day in the home. That was great for my mental health.”

His biggest achievement, he says, is seeing his staff be promoted and achieve their goals. He’s advocated for them during tough times and hopes they’ve learned from his knowledge and experience.

“I’ve had a wonderful career and some wonderful bosses, particularly at the Senior Sergeant level. I’m proud of the people I’ve worked with and it’s been a privilege to be a member of Police.”

With three Harley Davidsons in the garage and one needing a complete restoration, Sgt Stapp says he won’t be idle in retirement. He and wife Jackie also plan to travel and visit their grandchildren in Australia when they can.

District Commander Superintendent Bruce Bird said Sgt Stapp always stepped up to the mark in whatever duties he was undertaking, even if he wasn’t suited to them. He was always committed to his staff, passing on his knowledge and experience.

“Right up until the day he leaves, there has been nothing but 150 percent,” said Supt Bird.

“He will be dearly missed as he’s done a wonderful service for New Zealand Police and the communities he’s served.”

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