After seven years as Area Commander, Police Inspector Mark Fergus is swapping the coastal and rural communities of Rodney and the Hibiscus Coast for a remote chain of Pacific islands.
He is one of three New Zealand Police officers going to Vanuatu next month to act as volunteer advisers to the island force on community policing.
Mark says that while he is sad to be leaving his Orewa HQ and the wider community, he and wife Jen are excited at the prospect of a new adventure.
“I’ve run the ball up my 10 yards and I’m ready to pass it on,” he says. “It will be a really interesting experience. It’s really about working with local police in an advisory role, the challenges they’re facing and lessons I’ve learned that can be applied in their context. But it’s about working beside them, not leading.”
Mark says his seven-year stint as area commander has been the highlight of his 35-year police career.
“I feel really connected to this community, and it’s been a real pleasure to lead the police staff – it’s all felt really local. It still feels like we have got a community approach here,” he says. “The cops in Rodney, from senior constables to brand new graduates, are committed to this community. They live here and want to see it thrive and be a safe place. Retaining that community feel has been a real highlight for me.”
He has also enjoyed the diversity of his Waitemata North patch, which spreads from Muriwai and the Kaipara in the west through farming communities to Orewa, Warkworth and up to Mangawhai.
“I’ve enjoyed working with local iwi, too, we’ve got a good relationship with our local maraes, which really strengthened with Covid, because we’ve been working the northern borders with them. They’re just a blessing to be with.”
The biggest focus for the region’s police force remains crime prevention, especially burglary, although Mark says, with the increase in population, mental health issues, family harm and traffic incidents are on the rise. The force also works to keep gang crime to a minimum.
“This is still a reasonably safe place,” he says. “There are low instances of gang crime and gang violence, but we are seeing a slight increase. We work hard to give officers the tools they need.”
As well as overseeing the local patch, Mark has also played his part at major national tragedies such as the Christchurch mosque shootings and the White Island eruption, in his role as a member of NZ Police’s disaster victim identification team.
“It’s incredibly challenging but also rewarding to bring some closure to families and bring their loved ones back to them,” he says.
His own personal low point as Area Commander was the shooting of PC Matt Hunt in Massey last year, whose killer was recently sentenced to life imprisonment.
“He had just left here on secondment, he’d only been gone 10 days,” he recalls. “It had a really strong impact on all of our people. He was a great young lad with a promising career.”
The new Area Commander is Inspector Matt Laurenson, who starts this week after serving at Waitakere, and who Mark says is “a good people person who’ll be really good with the community”.
Mark and Jen Fergus will enjoy a family Christmas in Orewa before heading for Santo, the largest of Vanuatu’s islands, which lies around 300km north of the capital, Port Vila.
“We’ll miss our friends and I’ll miss this community, but it’s only a couple of years and we hope friends and family will be able to visit. Plus, we do get breaks back home,” he says.