A new breed of young inspectors is challenging traditional
notions in the Southern police district. Rosie Manins talks
to Inspector Mel Aitken about her swift rise through the
1990 Aramoana massacre inspired Insp Aitken to become a
She was 14 years old at the time and went on to complete a
commerce degree at the University of Otago before joining the
police force in 1999.
''I lived down near Aramoana and that [incident] made me want
to join the police - that was the catalyst.''
Insp Aitken (36) spent her first two years policing in
Auckland then transferred to Dunedin, where she was ''born
In 2004, she was promoted to the rank of sergeant and worked
in the Dunedin-based strategic traffic unit.
''I think I was the only ranked female sergeant in the area
at the time. Now, when I look around, there's a good handful
of females that are going up and getting promoted.''
Another promotion to senior sergeant came in 2007.
In November, her promotion to inspector, as the area
prevention manager for Dunedin, Clutha and Waitaki, became
Insp Aitken said getting the call about her successful
application was ''a dream''.
''I believe 36 is still quite young to be an inspector these
days, but we are entering a changing time within the
organisation. Our superintendent [Andrew Coster] is 38, and I
think we are recognising that age isn't a barrier to
knowledge, or having leadership skills and being able to use
Her new role involved overseeing the specific work groups of
road policing, youth, alcohol, families and community staff.
While based in the central Dunedin police station, she
planned to get out of the office regularly to maintain a
solid understanding of the front line.
''Certainly, I'm new to the role and my vision and where I
want to be is doing a lot of visits away from the office.
That's around leadership, leading staff and driving things
from the front.''
Insp Aitken said she got personal satisfaction from many
facets of being a police officer, from ''making people
happy'' to sharing success in team operations.
''Sometimes it's just coming into the morning meeting and
seeing we've made an impact on crime. Developing staff is a
huge highlight; you feel fantastic when you see other people
achieve through giving them opportunities.''
She did not think being a female made any real difference to
her abilities as a police officer, and said the modern
policing environment included many high-ranking women.
But she was also chuffed to be considered a source of
inspiration by some female colleagues.
''A couple of them have said to me that my becoming an
inspector has given them confidence they can achieve that,
too. I'd never really thought about that, and I didn't do it
because I was a female, but if I can inspire others, I think
Insp Aitken said her main sense of pride in the promotion
came from having worked for it, and as a leader she would
never ask staff to do anything she had not done or would not
''I've put in the hard yards and done the crap work. I've
earned the respect of staff because I've actually gone and
done it, and that helps in being influential.''
While her immediate focus was on consolidation and getting
grounded in the new role, Insp Aitken said there were many
more opportunities for future development within the police
force and she was ''certainly keen'' to explore them in due
She recommended being an officer without hesitation and said
she had no intention to try her hand at anything else.
''I'm so happy. I love my job.''
Fellow Dunedin policewoman Amelia Steel was also recently
promoted to inspector, making her and Insp Aitken the first
female inspectors permanently based in the Southern police
In 2010, Insp Steel became the first woman to head the
Southern prosecutions team, when she was officially appointed
as the district prosecutions manager at the rank of senior
sergeant. She was 36 years old at the time. Her new role was
in the police's professional standards unit.
Also recently promoted to inspector was Dunedin officer Jason
Guthrie (43), who became the Southern district deployment
manager - a new role created within the district's structure
Insp Guthrie had served in Dunedin for 20 years, was promoted
to senior sergeant in 2008, and from 2009 until earlier this
year was the tactical co-ordinator for Dunedin.
An armed offenders squad commander, in 2011, he was deployed
to Afghanistan for seven months.