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Toloa closes police chapter

Luther Toloa with a plant gifted from the IPCA in recognition of his service. PHOTO/GIANINA SCHWANECKE

Toloa recalls tough times for police

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Former Wairarapa policeman Luther Toloa has closed another chapter in his long legacy of service to police and justice, after completing his last day as an investigator at the Independent Police Conduct Authority.

Toloa arrived as a 12-year old boy from Tokelau, a group of atolls about 3700km northeast of New Zealand.

He came on a sponsored education trip, living at Homeleigh, which was run by the Methodist Church, and attended Masterton Intermediate School and later Wairarapa College.

His start in police work has ironic beginnings.

“I got into strife in my last year at school,” he said.

One afternoon, he and a friend were caught wagging, playing snooker at Matties Billiard Parlour instead of the scheduled squash session at school.

The pair got a telling off from Masterton police Sergeant Ric Bos, which got Toloa thinking about what he would do after school.

At just 19, he went off to join the police where he would serve for close to 30 years.

After about 20 years at the crime investigation bureau in south and central Auckland, he returned to Wairarapa hoping for a quieter life.

As head of the Masterton CIB during the late 1980s and early 1990s, life was anything but.

“I was the manager and responsible for managing the challenges that we had [during that time period].”

The work itself was not entirely different from what he had been doing in Auckland, but the scale of the community meant a different approach was needed.

“There were some dire consequences for us and the officers’ families.”

He spoke of how police authority was challenged with arson and damage done to officers’ home, and police and their family being abused “just for doing their job”.

Other cases such as the 1992 Ratima family murders also left their mark on the community, though it also led to some positives such as the launch of the White Ribbon campaign.

“It was a wake-up call for the community and for New Zealand.”

Police work is now much more considerate of helping victims and victims’ families, he said.

“It was a role I really loved, and we had a top team of officers who just worked and worked.”

The support of the wider Wairarapa community helped see them through the dark days.

Moving to the IPCA after working as a private investigator, life did not slow down much either.

“What I did was investigate all serious allegations against police officers.”

From non-fatal and fatal police shootings, to crashes after car chases and allegations of assault, he wanted people to know that police were held to account.

Similarly, after 12 years in the role, several cases remain firmly ingrained in his memory.

“There are some tragic cases. It’s the young ones, primarily Maori men. It’s the mental health and family related issues.”

At times, it had been like being thrown into the deep end, but he said that was the principle he was taught growing up as a young man in a foreign country with no family.

“I always had connections to the families that looked after me when I came here.”

It was one of the reasons he moved back to Wairarapa and also why he said he was ready to step down from the IPCA now.

He plans to spend more time with family, particularly his grandchildren, and doing more fishing.

With increasing talk about Tokelau gaining independence from New Zealand, he was also looking at getting more involved with politics back home.

Toloa has a few other projects on the go too.

Despite the challenges Wairarapa has been through, he said it was still “a damn good community”.


  1. Luther made a mark everywhere he went. Easily underestimated with his strong Tokelaun accent. But underestimated at your peril. A respected Detective in Auckland, a member of the AOS, a member of the legendary Auckland Rugby League side which beat Great Britain, France and the Kangeroos in a ten day period.

    Once in Masterton Luther established himself as a great leader with a true feel for his community.

    Behind many many of the infamous Wairarapa cases, ridding the town of the Nomad’s was an unachievable goal in the eyes of most. But Luther led a team to achieve that goal, decimating the Nomads through his smart planning and ability to think be outside the square and dot every ‘i’ and cross every ‘t’ when I came to.presenting cases to the court.

    Along with many many others I was extremely fortunate to do all of my Detective training under Luther Toloa. The Wairarapa was the best training ground for Detectives in NZ during Luther’s time as the man who lead the CIB.

    Legend is a term thrown around too easily these days but Luther Toloa was a true legend of investigation and the Wairarapa were very fortunate to have him.

    Lovely Day and Police to Meet you.

  2. A much respected Officer who was a pleasure to work with. He led the Wairarapa CIB through some turbulent years and was a calming and guiding influence on those around him. I worked with him on some challenging inquiries and have total respect for him and his work ethic. It was a priveledge to be his workmate and to experience some of those times with him. Enjoy a well earned retirement Luther. Regards

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