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Long-serving police area commander retires

The region’s top cop signed off for the final time last month after seven years in the job. On the eve of his departure, Area Commander Inspector Scott Miller spoke with the Times-Age’s MARLEE PARTRIDGE about his 40 years of service in the police, and his message for aspiring and current police officers.

After working with computers in the early ’80s, Scott Miller joined the New Zealand Police on April 16, 1984, at the age of 25.

Miller said he is looking forward to his retirement and plans to spend more time with family and friends, while also catching on those things around the house that might have been put off over the years due to the demands of the job.

Miller started out as a uniformed constable in Wellington, before moving into the Team Policing Unit [TPU], which worked nights from Thursday to Saturday, monitoring the public bars that, in those days were frequented by gangs.

During his stint in the TPU, the team was posted to Wairarapa for four months to deal with fire-bombing incidents in the late 1980s, when police officers’ homes were targeted by gangs with Molotov cocktails.

Miller joined the Criminal Investigation Branch [CIB] in Wellington in 1991, qualifying as a detective a few years later.

In 2006 he was promoted to Detective Senior Sergeant.

Three cases that continue to haunt

He worked multiple cases throughout his career, but he said there are three that stick out to him when reflecting on his time with the police.

One of them is the 2006 murder that launched ‘Operation Red Rocks’, after the handless corpse of Tony Stanlake washed up at Red Rocks beach in Wellington in July 2006 – a case that was regarded as revealing the grisly underbelly of Wellington.

Stanlake’s 21-year-old drug-dealing partner Daniel Moore was found to be responsible for the death, and was sentenced to a minimum of 18 years for the crime, while Moore’s butcher flatmate – who disposed of evidence for him – received 15 months’ jail time.

Closer to home in Wairarapa, the murder of Terri King in 1999 in the Tararua Range shocked locals when his body was discovered by a hunter with a bullet hole through the back of his skull – an execution-style killing that resulted in the arrest and trial of then 22-year-old William Haanstra.

Although Haanstra was later acquitted of the murder by a jury after a two-month High Court trial, in 2020 he was arrested for his role in a European crime syndicate that had constructed torture chambers in which to imprison their criminal rivals and was one of 10 people convicted of related crimes including large-scale drug trafficking, receiving a sentence of nine years in a Netherlands prison.

Miller said that another of the cases that has stuck with him the most was the death of a shaken baby.

The baby had been violently shaken about a week before its death, received no medical attention, and subsequently died after a second incident of violence.

It took seven years for the perpetrator to be arrested – he was later convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to three years imprisonment.

Miller said that despite it taking seven years, he was not the type of person to give up and eventually caught the killer through an extensive undercover investigation.

When asked if he was ever frustrated by the amount of time and effort put into investigations that didn’t necessarily deliver the desired result, Miller observed that those are the cases where police officers need to be able to not dwell on things.

“You’ve got to have a mindset where you do your job, and our job – particularly in the CIB – is to investigate on behalf of the family and support the victims and prepare that case to the best of our ability and present it to the court,” he said.

“Then after that, it’s out of our hands.

“There will be times when you can’t sleep, there will be times when things are on your mind,” Miller said, but as a police officer, you have to accept those times when you have to let the justice system take care of the rest.

Being a country cop

If he could go back in time, Miller said he wouldn’t change the way his career has played out over the years – though he might have joined the Armed Offenders Squad or potentially have taken opportunities for international deployments.

Rural policing is a different experience from what police officers might experience in larger cities, Miller said, while empathising it is one that’s well worth the work required.

Having fewer resources is one of the key differences between rural policing and working in the big smoke, he said, along with the relationships that are able to be built with residents.

“Police need to realise that in a rural community, they’re not as anonymous as they might be in the city, and our community here in Wairarapa will want to – and will – get to
know you,” Miller said.

“So you’ve got to be prepared for that, and you’ve got to want to do that.”

Attitudes towards police have changed over the four decades he had been an officer and Miller noted that there was more respect from the public earlier in his career.

He said police officers are there to help the public and try to as much as possible but shifting attitudes have made policing harder.

“We can get eight or nine-year-olds telling us we’re ‘pigs’ and that type of thing,” Miller said.

“The police uniform doesn’t hold the same respect it used to, from what I’ve experienced in the past few years.”

Praise and replacement

Miller officially took up the role of the region’s area commander in 2018, having been appointed Acting Area Commander the year before.

Wellington District Commander Superintendent Corrie Parnell has praised Inspector Miller for his “dedicated 40 years of loyal service … working across a number of roles and positions”.

“A large part of his career was working in the Criminal Investigation Branch where he was responsible for successfully leading a number of complex serious criminal investigations.

“In recent years he has been the Area Commander in the Wairarapa and an integral member of the wider Wellington district leadership team.

“He has been personally dedicated to the Wairarapa community and staff in what is often a challenging and demanding role in the provincial New Zealand setting.

“Police have opened an internal job advertisement which is advertised nationally for anyone within Police to apply.

“The initial pool of applicants will be shortlisted and will go through a multi-phase interview selection process.

“The future Wairarapa Area Commander will be selected by the District Commander and other senior police officers, and senior members of community partner agencies.”

Superintendent Richard Wilson will take on the role until a new Wairarapa Area Commander is appointed.

Wilson said he is grateful for the opportunity and privilege of covering the Area Commander role, something which he intentionally sought out after “hearing great things about the Wairarapa community and the local Police team”.

“I am focused on ensuring the community continue to get excellent service and feel safe across the Wairarapa,” Wilson said.

“I’ll be doing this by providing strong support and leadership to our police team.”

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