Officer short in stature but long in service

Mal Parker retired this week after a lengthy law-enforcement career. Hamish McNeilly catches up with the Dunedin man.

Mal Parker describes himself as an ''old-school officer'' and one who certainly loves a yarn.

The amiable former senior constable, who retired on Thursday a year shy of his 65th birthday, shared some highs - and lows - from his almost 40-year career with the police and the former Ministry of Transport (MoT).

His career started after brief stints at Lane Thomson Ltd, at Downers ''taking nuts off bolts'', and then driving trucks.

''But I just got bored,'' he concedes.

''I saw this full-page ad in the paper about being a traffic cop and I thought 'That is me'.''

The next day, the diminutive Mr Parker was asked how tall he was.

''I am tall enough,'' he replied, and that, seemingly, was that.

A fortnight later, in September 1976, he was at the MoT training college in Trentham, when he was hauled out of the classroom and his height questioned by the instructor.

''He measured me and said I was too short, so I told him that is your problem, not mine.

''I have always said when they got me they got quality, not quantity.''

And it appears they did.

His commendations include a Courageous Service Award from the United Nations.

In March 2008 - just weeks before he was due to return to Dunedin following a six-month stint in East Timor - he was with a United Nations group waiting to cross a rapidly-rising river.

A man attempting to cross the raging river on a horse was tipped off into the torrent, and without thinking, Mr Parker saved the struggling man from being pulled underwater.

And it is back to the humorous anecdotes again.

''I pulled over this guy in the Ministry [of Transport] days and I said to the young fella 'you can have a ticket or a kick up the arse'.

''He asked for a kick up the arse, so I bent him over and kicked him up the arse ... and off he went.''

So was that good policing?

''Then it was, I think so.''

He enjoyed the change when the MoT traffic safety service merged with police on July 1, 1992.

The biggest difference was that ''traffic cops dealt with everyone, from accountants down to lowlifes, but police dealt with criminals''.

''But getting the blue uniform was just the bees' knees.''

Mr Parker served overseas in the Solomon Islands in 2007, which ended up costing him thousands of dollars as he tried to help ''all those kids who just have nothing''.

One of his accomplishments included getting the local fire service to hose down the excrement-covered police cells and repaint them.

He was particularly chuffed when a local he befriended decided to name his newborn daughter Robyn, after Mr Parker's wife.

''That was a nice touch.''

In 2008, he was awarded a district commander's commendation for talking an offender off a roof, and four years later scaled scaffolding outside the Dunedin Town Hall to assist a man who suffered a medical condition.

After spending five years working as a police negotiator, Mr Parker was no stranger to negotiating with people ''hellbent on doing something else''.

But of all the early morning callouts, it was the suicide attempts that affected him the most. One episode brings tears to the eyes of a policeman who never shied away from showing emotion when wearing the uniform.

It was the heartbreaking case of a young woman who died alone in a Dunedin motel room but her family had no money to get her body home.

Wiping away tears, he said ''I got a police van and took her up to Nelson''.

''They still send him Christmas cards,'' Mrs Parker added.

Asked if he had been winding down for his retirement, he replied, ''I have been winding myself up'', before dissolving into his trademark laugh.

''It is the PCT that got me,'' he conceded.

Every two years, police officers are required to pass a physical competency test (PCT).

''In 38 years, I have never had to jump a 6ft ditch, or a fence, or pushed a trailer in my life'', he said, in reference to the test.

His doctor told him not to do the test due to a health condition and he was given a medical certificate for a PCT exemption.

However, he was told from March 1, 2013, he could no longer wear a uniform, would be taken off the street and would not have any interaction with the public.

While Dunedin-based superiors approved the exemption, Police National Headquarters did not and he was told he would be medically disengaged.

''I said 'show an old man a bit of dignity and let me work my time out'. So, we came to a mutual agreement.

''I think it stinks.''

Mr Parker said his health was never called into question during his police career, saying he was often the first to volunteer for jobs, no matter the type of call.

However, he reiterated his huge respect for those serving with the Dunedin Police and was visibly annoyed he could not serve his last year with the officers ''I would do anything for''.

As part of his retirement, he plans to visit a son in Australia and he may get the boat out of the garage, but he and his wife plan to remain in the city they love.

But be warned: Mr Parker still keeps a notepad in his car for when he spots any infringements.

It seems old habits are difficult to break.

 

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