CONGRATULATIONS: Senior Sergeant Yvonne Parker has recently celebrated her 35th anniversary with the New Zealand Police. Photo Troy Baker D9090-02

WHEN Yvonne Parker said as a teenager that she wanted to be a police officer, her careers guidance counsellor at Whakatane High School suggested a prison warden instead.

Thirty-five years on, she is celebrating her anniversary with the New Zealand Police and has no plans to slow down on the crimefighting anytime soon.

And to that prison warden suggestion? “Stuff that!”.

When Mrs Parker joined the force in October of 1984 there were no locker rooms for the women in Whakatane and you couldn’t join the force if you were a married mother.

“Women with children were unable to join.

“It was a male culture when I joined, women were allowed to be in the force, but responsibility has changed now for the better, everything is open for everybody.”

It was a fellow water-polo player that inspired the then 17-year-old’s dream. After hearing what her job was like, she set her sights on a career in blue.

Top of her graduating class at police college, Mrs Parker said her studies in criminology and psychology played a crucial role in her early success, as well as her sportsmanship having played water polo for New Zealand in the ’70s.

After graduating at the start of 1985, she was sent north to Whangarei and within five years had been through the wringer.

“I started in Whangarei and worked there for five or six years. I’d gone through that round of physically aggressive behaviour by offenders and it was a sharp learning curve.”

Transferring to Tauranga and with a swag of stories already to write home about, Mrs Parker took on multiple roles on the front line and in management at the larger station in the Bay.

Recruiting has been a definite highlight of her career, with ex-recruits approaching her years on to say how fundamental her influence had been in their careers.

“Helping people who were determined to become police officers and seeing them succeed has been a massive highlight of my career so far,” she said.

“Everybody remembers their recruiting officer because it makes or breaks our job,” Mrs Parker said.

Another memorable moment for Mrs Parker was when she and another officer checked into a motel knowing guests were cooking drugs in a nearby room.

“We knew that drugs were being cooked in the motel and we needed to be there ready to snap them when the cooking process was just about finished.”

Transferring back to Whakatane was a no-brainer 22 years ago, as Mrs Parker said life was about balancing everything that came with it, including raising a family.

Having worn many hats during her career, moving from constable to senior sergeant, working in recruiting to intelligence, a varied life full of a job that’s always changing is why Mrs Parker continues to live her dream.

“After 35 years I still enjoy coming to work because you just don’t know what’s ahead of you on this day.

“We can’t predict what is going happen out there in the community and that’s the unpredictable nature of the job.”

Twenty-five lockers are now occupied by policewomen at the Whakatane station and Mrs Parker is proud to have been one of the first.