End of the thin blue line for veteran New Brighton cop

Senior Constable Garry Bombay switched from the beat to the front desk at New Brighton police...
Senior Constable Garry Bombay switched from the beat to the front desk at New Brighton police station in 2018. PHOTO: GEOFF SLOAN
Garry Bombay found his station in life where policing has occupied the same site in Christchurch since 1902, longer than any other. Chris Barclay gently interrogates Senior Constable Garry Bombay before his final shift on the front counter in New Brighton marked the end of 47 years in the force 
Why join the police force?
I was in 6th form (Xavier College) and we were fixing bikes, fundraising for a trip to Auckland. I heard an advert on Radio Avon for police cadets and applied. My hand was on the back door to catch the bus into town and go to the Labour Exchange – dad was putting the heat on to get a job – when the phone rang. It was Sergeant Townsend. I caught the ferry (to Wellington and the police college in Trentham) in January, 1977. The cadetship was a year. I was straight out of school, straight basically into another school environment learning the Crimes Act, Summary Offences Act,  radio procedures, first aid, self-defence. If I wasn’t in the police I probably would have been a builder.
Was it easy getting transferred back home?
The choice was Wellington or Wellington, or maybe Auckland. I worked in headquarters because I was 18 when I graduated. You got attested at 19. That worked to my benefit because I was in personnel. They organised the transfers and the young ladies there knew all the excuses about getting to wherever. They pointed me in the right direction. I got to Christchurch in late 1978.
How did you end up at the New Brighton station on Seaview Rd? 
I did my time doing the ‘newbie’ jobs (at Christchurch Central in Hereford St). I did the beat, worked on the incident car, the watch house with prisoner processing. I eventually gained the experience to be out in a suburban station and work without too much supervision.
You were early in your career when the Springboks arrived in 1981. How was that experience as a 22-year-old, relatively new recruit?
I never envisaged anything like that. It was an exciting time as a young guy. It wasn’t something you shied away from. I ended up in Napier, Wellington and Dunedin. We had situations where we were nose-to-nose. We had our big one here at Lancaster Park (first test, won by the All Blacks 14-9). I was outside and it was intense, especially around the back (Falsgrave St/Talfourd Pl). The protestors funnelled in as a group from Fitzgerald Ave.
Senior Constable Garry Bombay was the longest-serving police officer at the New Brighton station,...
Senior Constable Garry Bombay was the longest-serving police officer at the New Brighton station, which was first established on Seaview Rd site in 1902. PHOTO: CHRIS BARCLAY
Did you pick a side, were you pro or anti-tour?
I was a soccer man then, later on I changed codes (playing for Shirley alongside Canterbury and All Black wing Craig Green). I didn’t hold any firm beliefs. The protesters had their right to protest. I was probably pro the rugby because they had the right to see the games. No one had the right to stop anyone doing anything.
You emerged unscathed from the tour, but there must have been life-threatening situations later in the line of duty?
There was a homicide where two of us cordoned the property.  The person with the shotgun came out the back door and I challenged him. I was behind a wooden fence, which probably wouldn’t have done much. I was looking over the fence and he came out. He looked at me, I looked at him and he went back inside. He could have easily raised the gun then, but he didn’t. We eventually got him out, and someone else who was alive. There was one deceased. 
We weren’t as well-prepared in those days. You had your notebook, pen, baton, handcuffs and your hat. No tasers, no body armour, no pepper spray.
Do you still have your original police-issue handcuffs?
I’ll be handing in my second pair. I handcuffed a burglar (inside Anderson & Hill on Cashel Mall early in his career) to a railing inside the store and went after the other guy (unsuccessfully). I came back to the store and he had a big screwdriver on him. He was prising my cuffs apart and was on the last notch. That was my handcuffs’ demise but he didn’t get away.
The divisive Springbok rugby tour of New Zealand featured prominently during Senior Constable...
The divisive Springbok rugby tour of New Zealand featured prominently during Senior Constable Garry Bombay's formative years in the police. Photo: File image
ow has the New Brighton station’s function changed over your time?
We’re famous for centralising and decentralising. When they built this station (it opened in 1994) we had a lot of staff here, it became an inspector-ranked station at one point.  We had two lots of CIB (Criminal Investigation Bureau) groups in the late ‘90s. Then they centralised and all the detectives went to town. The I (incident) cars went to town. There was a lot of empty office space, then they decentralised again. We’re back to a sergeant (in charge) now but in recent years we’ve got a full complement of PST (public safety team) cars. In theory that’s five groups of 10 constables. It’s not that much in practice, though having them back has boosted morale in the station. There’s more people to talk to. Nice young people, fresh faces.
How about some faces familiar with having their mugshot taken? Have the same families spanned generations in terms of criminality? 
I’ve got two first names straight away in my mind (he will not name surnames). I’ve got a saying: ‘To be old and wise, first you have to be young and stupid’. The first generation have become older and wiser, unfortunately their kids haven’t gotten to that stage.
Although you were content to serve by the seaside, despite the notorious easterly, your policing also featured Search And Rescue (SAR) for 30-odd years until 2017. Why venture in that direction?
Being outdoors appealed. That’s a reason I didn’t rise up the ranks. I thought about it, but I was comfortable here. I had the outside interests of search and rescue as well which took me away a lot from general duties. It was a good change of environment.
Senior Constable Garry Bombay (right, front) with other Search and Rescue members in the...
Senior Constable Garry Bombay (right, front) with other Search and Rescue members in the aftermath of the Canterbury earthquakes in February, 2011. Photo: File image
Do you recall any particular searches?
There was one in Arthur’s Pass, 20 years ago at least, that went well over a week. Two young ladies went for a tramp and got caught out. They climbed up so high, when they tried to come back down it was too dangerous. Then the weather closed in and whited everything out. They were very lucky. The weather cleared and as the helicopter flew over areas we couldn’t search earlier, there they were, waving. There’s been searches where the person had died, but we’ve recovered the body. To find a dead person in the middle of nowhere, that in itself is a successful search, in the context of being able to return them to the family.
Where were you around lunchtime on February 22, 2011?
I was working here as a community constable. I was speaking to a lady and next minute she dived under a desk and my computer was all over the place. I started at 7am and I didn’t get home until midday the next day. My house was pretty well wrecked. All the roof tiles were off. For the next three months I did DVI (Disaster Victim Identification). All the bodies went through us to Burnham. It was full on.
Has the New Brighton community changed over the decades? If so, how?
Similar people have lived here throughout, the unemployed to multi-millionaires. It’s changed since the earthquakes. A lot of it is in the red zone. We’ve lost places in Bexley, Dallington and Burwood. We’ve gained Prestons, Waitikiri and Pegasus. The dynamic has changed, and the type of people you’re dealing with.
Veteran Senior Constable Garry Bombay (front, centre) spent 30 years with the Search and Rescue...
Veteran Senior Constable Garry Bombay (front, centre) spent 30 years with the Search and Rescue component of the police force. Photo: Supplied
How has policing changed over the decades? We’re told you’d go into the old Bower Tavern and warn drinkers a checkpoint was getting set-up, so call a taxi or a lift if you’re getting another jug . . .
I may have done that, it was common practice. We were about prevention rather than apprehending people. If they ignore good advice, be that at your own risk. We’d do regular patrols of pubs as a prevention measure. We don’t have time any more.
Are the public less respectful to the badge/uniform these days?
The morals have slipped over the years. When we had the Summary Offences Act (1981) you could arrest somebody for swearing in a public place. If you used the ‘f bomb’ out in the street, you’d get locked up, simple as that. In those days blatantly swearing loudly was really frowned upon. People got arrested and put before the court (risking a $500 fine). If you swore at police you got locked up. Then that slowly wore away. Now you’ve got ‘f**k this’ and the c-word on TV. At school I got the cane several times, the strap and the yard ruler. There’s zero of that now. Everything’s declined to where kids are taught to question authority. If a policeman told you to do something you’d do it and s**t yourself at the same time. Now it’s ‘You can’t do that’. The respect has gone to some degree. 
Any retirement plans?
I’m going to look for some part-time work that’s not mind-numbing. I like fishing (off Banks Peninsula and in the Marlborough Sounds) and I go mountain biking through Bottle Lake two or three times a week.