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8 November 2017

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People priority for new Western Waikato area commander

People priority for new Western Waikato area commander

Inspector Andrew Mortimore’s (Williams 1993 – 1997) police career was born out of tragedy.

After 16 years on the beat, the recently ranked inspector this month returns to his roots in the King Country as the new Western Area Commander.

It’s not a role he thought he'd land at the age of 38, though it’s been his aim since joining the police in 2002.

"Waikato West has always held a special place for me, so I always had that desire to return and contribute to this area of the district."

Mortimore, a father of three, has strong connections to the King Country, having moved to Te Kuiti when he was six months old.

He spent his younger years in the rural south before attending boarding school in Hamilton where he thrived on hockey and athletics.

In 1998, he spent a year working at a 400-year-old school in a small hamlet on the northern side of London.

It gave him a chance to travel and learn some life skills.

Upon his return, he embarked on a bachelor degree in sports and exercise science.

At the time, policing was in the back of his mind, waiting for the right timing.

That time came in late 2000, during his second year at polytech.

It’s also when tragedy struck.

One of his close mates went missing.

Police launched an investigation. His body was later found in the Waikato River near Huntly.

The loss was raw for the 21-year-old student, but the compassion officers showed to family and friends propelled him into the force.

By November 2001, Mortimore was unpacking his bags at the Royal NZ Police College.

Training was tough, but the 80 recruits in Wing 200 were ambitious.

Nineteen weeks on and he was finding his feet on the Huntly beat.

Huntly was always one of his favourite postings and is now where he will be based in his area commander role.

But the north Waikato town certainly has its challenges – youth crime, burglaries and family violence.

Tackling and managing the "volume crime" – burglaries and thefts – that make up 55 per cent of the region’s crime rate will be a challenge, he says.

People will be his focus.

He wants to support his own police staff and work with communities and partner agencies to make sustainable changes that cater for the diversity of the region’s towns.

What works in Huntly might not work in Cambridge.

Finding the right staff for the right job and helping officers with their professional development will also be a priority.

Officers need "common sense, practicality and a thick skin", he says.

In his early days, Mortimore utilised the "open door policy" of Huntly’s Criminal Investigation Bureau.

He enjoyed the nature of investigative work and learnt from the senior detectives.

"The training an investigator gets to look at a situation and assess the information has taught me some good practices which I have carried over into my supervisory roles."

Those lessons helped him navigate his path as a detective within CIB from mid-2006.

Two cases stand out.

In 2011, Ngaruawahia six-month-old Serenity Scott-Dinnington was dropped head first on to the ground. She was the same age as Mortimore’s second child when she died.

"That really affected me."

A four-hour interview with her killer, Mathew Shane Ellery, tested both Mortimore’s personal values and his patience. ​

He remembers the relief when Ellery pleaded guilty after many months of protesting his innocence.

"There was a considerable amount of effort that went into that investigation and it was a pleasing result."

Yet among the successes were failures, the cases where there was "never quite enough".

Like 22-month-old Hail-Sage McClutchie.

No one was ever prosecuted over her death.

She died of serious head injuries in hospital in 2009 after spending the weekend in the care of her mother and her mother’s partner.

Despite 18 months of dogged police work, Waikato detectives were never able to pinpoint what led to her death.

​"We always hoped we would solve it."

As a police officer, you always feel the most upset when victims are the most vulnerable, he says.

"Children – they don't have a voice and are so early in their lives when it’s taken away from them."

Mortimore has also done stints as acting sergeant in Huntly, Hamilton and Raglan. He’s led Hamilton’s Public Safety Team and worked the crime squad as detective sergeant, run the Tactical Crime Unit and headed the district’s deployment.

He’s also been married for 12 years and he and his wife have three children aged nine, six and four.

Yet there was always a desire to return to his country roots.

When the area commander job came up, he took his chance.

The timing was right.

"I had always had aspirations to return to Waikato west and, in particular, Huntly, although I didn't think it would be in the area commander role, and certainly not at this stage.

"For me it’s about getting out and meeting people, talking to them and finding out what they see as the need for the community."

Photo caption: Western Waikato Area Commander Inspector Andrew Mortimore. Picture: Mark Taylor. Stuff

(Source: Waikato Times)