By Otago Daily Times | Posted: Monday February 27, 2017
Taieri-Clutha area response manager Senior Sergeant Alastair Dickie (59) is looking for a new challenge."Ive been to too many funerals lately and lifes too short."He expects withdrawal symptoms from policing when he retires next month and is still mulling over his options for the future.
Policing had changed since he started in 1978.
Police used to make misbehaving teenagers pick up rubbish or wash a police car.
"They hated it because their mates would give them a fair old ribbing."
He happily gave any troublemaker "a clip around the ear and a kick up the bum".
"But you have to draw the line and you can’t overstep it too much — and we did in the old days."
In a small town, police needed to be "firm but fair" because there were times when officers needed "back-up" from the community.
An example was in the 1980s when he was working alone and locked up two Mongrel Mob members from Masterton who were causing trouble in Kaitangata.
Other gang members stormed the Balclutha station, intent on hurting him, at which point a local among them made himself heard.
"A wee Maori fella popped up from the back and said, ‘Basil’s all right. Do what he says. He’s a good bugger and picks me up when I’m pissed and takes me home’."
The community nicknamed him Basil after Basil Fawlty (John Cleese) from television show Fawlty Towers because they looked alike.
He believes that if the man had not spoken up, the gang members would have killed him.
"He saved my bacon."
Police work was in Snr Sgt Dickie’s blood.
His father, Basil Dickie, was a policeman in Dunedin, and his son, Logan Dickie, was a constable in Dunedin.His mother Dorothy Dickie, did not want him to become a policeman and he joined a year after her death in 1977, leaving behind a career in truck driving.He joined the police because he needed a new challenge and was surprised he was accepted with two years’ high school education at Otago Boys’.
"Doors opened up for me so I owe a lot to police."
A year after joining, he was part of a squad sent to Auckland to identify the people killed in the Mt Erebus disaster.
"It was a bit of an eye-opener — a sobering start."
The work helped prepare him to deal with fatalities on South Otago roads.
South Otago was known as "the drinking capital of New Zealand".
"The shearing gangs, fishermen and forestry workers were hard nuts. They worked hard and they played hard — there was a lot of assaults and disorder going on but I quite enjoyed having a scuffle with them."
The high unemployment in South Otago boosted the crime rate and kept police busy but he never regretted his decision to work in the district.
"South Otago has been really good to me."
He was promoted to sergeant when he started a five-year stint in Christchurch in 1987, a "violent city" brimming with murders, rapes and gangs.
"For a young cop, it was quite exciting," he said.
He returned to South Otago in 1993 to work in the newly built station and newly created sergeant position and was promoted to senior sergeant a year later.
On his return, he discovered the "black jersey brigade" were running the pubs in South Otago and made it clear police were unwelcome inside the taverns.
On entering a pub, he was greeted by a man in a wheelchair telling him to leave.
"I went to wheel him out and the pub closed in on us."
He feared the worst but some locals had his back and rolled up their sleeves in a show of support for police.
"We managed to get out unscathed ... it turned to s... outside; they were letting police tyres down and we locked up 15."
In 2003, he shifted to Mosgiel, just before two stock trucks crashed near Outram, killing about 600 sheep.
"That was a hell of a mess."
In 2005, he was deployed to the Solomon Islands for six months to mentor the chief superintendent after civil unrest.
"That was interesting — frustrating as hell but a good experience."
He enjoyed a stint as area commander in Central Otago in 2012 but his time as Southern district operations manager at headquarters in Dunedin for a year after that "didn’t spin his wheels".
"I prefer to be outside."
He was appointed Taieri-Clutha area response manager in 2014, reconnecting with the "good people in the country".
"It’s like it’s in a time warp. It’s refreshing."
A great change in the district was the pubs being cleaned up and fewer dying on the roads.
The part of the job he hated the most was telling someone a person in their family had died.
"It’s a horrible feeling. You try and decide how you are going to break the news to people and you have all these ideas but ... when you get there and people go to pieces ... it’s devastating."
Police work could "chew away" at an officer.
He had seen a psychologist "two or three times" in his career.
The stresses of the job accumulated until the brain decided "this isn’t right".
A chat with a therapist had helped him "recharge" and return to the job.
The crash which he could not forget was the death of two children on a Hindon farm in 2003.
They had released the handbrake in a ute, which rolled into a gully, as their father grubbed thistles nearby.
"The dad chased the ute and couldn’t stop it — it was tragic ... it got to me more than anything else."
He disliked events which revolved around excessive alcohol consumption, such as the Undie 500, Hyde St keg party and Wingatui races.
About 70% of police work was alcohol-related and anything which promoted alcohol consumption "annoyed" him.
"I don’t want to spoil people’s fun — they’re entitled to it — but it goes overboard when it goes to that stage and it needs to stop."
He had been "rapped across the knuckles a number of times" for speaking openly to the media.
"I had to wear it — I’m not blaming anyone else for it. Sometimes I open my gob when I shouldn’t have. There were times I couldn’t help myself. Things needed to be said and I said them, but yeah, they dealt with me appropriately and fairly."
He recommended a career in policing: "It’s still a good job ... I have a lot to thank the police for."
He had worked in several police departments, including armed offenders squads, but his favourite job was walking the beat.
"I get a real buzz out of it."
Once, while walking the beat in Balclutha, he saw a "big backside" coming out a window of a jeweller’s shop.
"I made a positive identification without seeing this guy’s face because he used to walk around with his jeans halfway down his bum. I thought ‘it’s got to be him’ and it was. His mates were running around in the shop and I managed to get them, as well. That’s what I joined the police for — to catch crims."
The "buzz" of catching criminals was still there, he said.
"But I’m getting on 60 now and need to slow down and try something different — even if it’s selling ice creams."