Was your assessment of Mr Neil Grimstone incorrect Leo???
Ex-top cop Neil Grimstone
14:43, Jan 31 2009
Neil Grimstone's career fighting the 'crooks' and 'mongrels' of South Auckland's underworld is over. He just hopes his legacy will be more than one ill-judged joke. Tony Wall reports.
In Neil Grimstone's world, criminals are "crooks", rapists and murderers are "mongrel dogs", and organised crime rings are "boils on the backside of police". Oh, and don't trust Chinese crooks or "anyone who can be blindfolded with a shoelace".
That last one got Grim, as his mates and colleagues call him, into a fair spot of bother.
As far as clangers go, it was a prize one. One of the country's top detectives, Grimstone was addressing an Asian crime conference in Wellington, including delegates from Asia, about the kidnapping of a Howick woman for a million-dollar ransom. He decided to "liven things up" with the shoelace gag. Grimstone is an old-school cop who is about as politically incorrect as they come, but even for him, this was a shocker. Just a couple of months away from retirement after a successful and pretty much spotless 27-year career, he goes and tells a racist joke at a conference attended by the very people he is offending.
Inevitably, a reporter heard about the comment and it made front page news. He has no real explanation for the transgression.
"It was a throwaway line, totally intended to be a joke. I shouldn't have said it in that forum," says Grimstone, sitting at his desk at Mangere police station in South Auckland, a few days before his retirement. Friday was his last day as a police officer.
"I got it wrong. I admitted I got it wrong. I apologised to all the relevant people."
Grimstone is proud of the fact that he is a straight-shooter, someone who tells it like it is rather than mucking about with police jargon. Is this why the off joke slipped out?
"History has shown that is the case. I didn't intend to offend anybody, it was just purely and simply trying to liven things up with a gag."
He worries the comment will "tinge" his career.
"Hopefully, I'll be remembered for other things I've done and other crimes I've solved and the fact I was always a police officer who called it as it was, and got in and dealt with the tough issues and some of the more difficult criminals, and got some good results, and that that one mistake in 27 years can be pushed to one side."
It was not as if Grimstone did not have experience of other cultures, having made a career over almost three decades policing the cultural melting pot that is South Auckland.
"You've got to deal with all sorts of people. Your job as a police officer is being able to communicate with those people. If you can't do that you're not going to get the information you need. It's a matter of communicating and using the officers ... who are good at communicating with the various cultures."
The fact is, reporters loved it when Detective Senior Sergeant Grimstone headed a case. He was a walking headline. He'd invariably come up with a classic line like "filthy savage" his description for the man who raped a Pukekohe woman in her home last year.
"I make no apologies for it. It got the message out there. It kept it on the front page of the paper, or before the first ad-break on the (TV) news.
"From the feedback I got from the public, people wanted to hear it how it is. They didn't want to hear police jargon, they wanted to hear someone tell it how it is, and what's actually going on, in a way that any normal member of the public might speak."
His colourful language did not always go down well with his superiors.
"There are people who don't appreciate it and everyone's entitled to their opinion. I'm not politically correct, sometimes I get it wrong, but the majority of the time I've got it right."
He certainly got the results he can boast of having no unsolved files to pass on when he retired.
Grimstone was born and raised in the Manawatu and moved to Auckland aged about 11, when his pharmaceutical salesman father was transferred.
He went to Catholic boys school Sacred Heart College and though his mates all went to university, he decided he "could do worse" than a career in the police, and joined in 1980.
He was a year out of police college a fresh-faced 19-year-old when he was assigned to the Springbok tour, "a hell of an experience".
Was it scary?
"Shit yeah, especially that third test match. The protesters were playing for keeps and we had to man our barricade and they weren't to get through. I always remember there was all sorts of stuff getting chucked rocks, flour bombs.
"The commissioner at the time, Bob Walton, came up behind the barricade. We were covered in all sorts of stuff and he never got hit with anything the whole time we couldn't believe it he was wandering around just with his normal hat on."
Grimstone got his detective's stripes in 1990 and spent the rest of his career locking up some of the country's worst criminals.
"When you come to South Auckland and you walk in and think you've seen it all, something else will crop up and you'll just shake your head and go, `only in South Auckland'."
With typical Grimstone understatement, he describes the decapitation of a Tongan man in the Otara shopping centre in 1988 by a Samoan with a machete as "an eye-opener".
He also investigated the rape and murder of Susan Burdett in her Papatoetoe home in 1992. Teina Pora was found guilty of the killing, but years later serial rapist Malcolm Rewa was additionally found guilty of raping her. Grimstone rates Rewa as one of the worst "crims" he's come across.
More recently, Grimstone was in charge of recovering the body of murder victim Darunee Aphiromlerk, who was bound and gagged before Dean Joseph Shepherd threw her alive into the Waikato River in 2004.
"It took us about three hours just to get the bindings off her in the morgue. No-one should ever die like that and I just made a promise to myself that I was gonna catch the guy who did it. I had to go home and have a shower because of the stench that was through your clothes and hair. I just made a note, I'm gonna catch this guy, and about five weeks later, I did."
Shepherd confessed and did a video reconstruction of the crime.
"Along the way I've dealt with a lot of crooks. Some of them are actually quite good blokes. I'll often spend a bit of time having a yarn to them off the record just to work out what makes them tick. If you can establish a rapport, it's a huge learning curve for you. You can pick their brains and bat the breeze, which is a way of working out how you'll deal with someone next time you come across them."
Grimstone says he never had any trouble dealing with the stress of the job or gruesome nature of the crimes, because he had plenty of interests outside the police, including playing cricket and rugby.
He says policing is still a good career, but young officers don't have the support of experienced officers to call on, as he did when he started.
"Probably if there is anything the department needs to maybe look at, it's how they value their people, and try to look after their people as best they can. It's the most important resource they've got. If you don't have people with experience in key roles, it's going to make things a lot more difficult - especially now when we're more in the spotlight."
He believes the police can move on from the bad publicity surrounding the 1980s police pack-rape trials.
"It got tremendous publicity, as it should have. Hopefully, we've learned from it and can build from there. Let's look to the future and learn our lessons from it, I think we have and we will. But some of the young frontliners have been called rapists. Some of them weren't even born when this happened and dickheads are calling them rapists; it's just a cheap shot."
Grimstone is 45, and decided to get out of the police while he was still "employable". He will start as the new central Auckland branch manager for Matrix Security in three weeks.
His colleagues were planning a few beers and a roast for lunch on Friday. His boys, Ben, 12, and Mitchell, 10, were to attend with their mother, Michelle Grimstone's ex-wife and his new wife Tania. The women get on well. "They say behind every good man is a good woman, well at my farewell I'm having both my wives there. I would suggest there will be some speeches predominantly taking the piss out of me.
"That should be a bit of a laugh. I'm looking forward to it, but it'll be a sad day 27 years is a long time in one job in one area. But it's all about looking forward and not back."
Sunday Star Times