2016 marks the 75th anniversary of the first intake of women into police

The Westport News does a great job of reminding us of this particular landmark.  One which, it must be said, feels so unremarkable today that it forces us to think back to a time when women weren’t considered suitable for such a role.  Today, of course, we don’t even think twice about it.

The Westport News vignettes two of their locals:

Hurdling a fence while wearing a skirt after being threatened by a woman with a gun is a vivid memory for a Westport woman who served with the police in the 1950s.

Chris Reeves was a member of Wing 56 – the first mixed class of police recruits/trainees at the police training college in Trentham in 1956.

After graduating, Constable Christy Boyd, as she was then, chose to work in Dunedin.

In her first year on the job police received a call that there was a woman pointing a gun out the window of a house.

In those days women police officers walked the beat but aside from that dealt only with cases which involved women and children. However, as this was a woman with a gun Mrs Reeves was part of the response.

As her colleagues staged a distraction at the back of the house she was deputed to try the front door but the distraction hadn’t worked and the woman had spotted her.”Get off the bloody veranda or I’ll shoot you” was the message.

“I’d never run so fast in my life,” said Reeves of her fleet-footed race through the garden and over the fence.

The woman was later taken to Seacliff Mental Hospital.

It was the thrill of the chase that hooked Constable Angela Meldrum into policing.

Meldrum said she was working in a Dunedin shop when she ended up chasing some shoplifters out of the store and cornering them along the road.

The resulting adrenaline rush got her thinking and from there she applied for the police force.

After graduating in June 2008, the Hokitika local was posted to Dunedin.

She did three-and-a-half years there before taking a year out to travel in Europe.

Working an office job in London during her time away, she said she found herself always wondering what the police were up to when she spotted patrol cars from her window.

After she returned, a job came up in Westport where she’d only been once before to play netball.

Eight-and-a-half years on with the police she “can’t imagine doing anything else”.

It’s the “ultimate people’s job”, Meldrum said.

What was most important about policing was communication and people skills she said, rather than physical strength.

“There’s a very small percentage of people in the community who see it any differently and whose idea of a good police officer is a big burly fellow.”

Women underwent the same training as men, had to pass the same physical tests and did the same work.

Meldrum described the Westport police station as “awesome” with a great mix of police officers.

There were great career opportunities with the job, she said.

She has trained in negotiation and is a member of the four-person negotiation squad on the Coast which works alongside the Armed Offenders Squad in high-risk situations.

What she loved about the job from the outset was still what she loved today – “catching the bad guys” – responding, catching and arresting and then seeing that someone went through the court process.

 

– Teresa Smith, Westport News


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