Women in leadership roles

In 2016 three out of 12 District Commanders are women and many women have senior roles within the organisation.

This is only a selection of some of NZ Police's inspirational female leaders. We will be updating these details over the next few weeks.

  • Julia Lynch

    Year joined: 
    1995
    Current rank: 
    Inspector
    Current role: 
    Counties Manukau Central Area Commander

    Inspector Julia Lynch joined the New Zealand Police in 1995.

    When she first left school, she wasn't sure what she wanted to do for a career so she worked a number of jobs before joining the Police in her early 20s. During her first five years with Police she worked in the General Duties Branch.

    In 2000 she joined the Counties Manukau Criminal Investigation Branch (CIB), qualifying as a Detective in 2004. She was then promoted to Sergeant and worked in the Tactical Crime Unit before moving to a Response Sergeant's role.

    In 2005 Julie took leave without pay for almost a year while she worked as a Human Resources Advisor for the Aviation Security Service, after finishing a Bachelor of Business majoring in Human Resources. Following her return to Police she was promoted to Senior Sergeant in 2006, working in Youth & Community Services in Counties Manukau West.

    Julia took parental leave in 2008 when she had her first child, later returning to the Youth & Community Services role before she became the Neighbourhood Policing Team (NPT) Coordinator in 2010. During her time as coordinator she helped implement the first NPT Teams into the Counties Manukau District. After she had her second child she became the Acting Prevention Manager Auckland City District for a short period before returning to the Youth & Community Services role. She was then appointed as the Counties Manukau Road Policing Manager in 2012. She took on her current role as the Counties Manukau Central Area Commander in 2013.

    During her time with Police, Julia has been fortunate to have many mentors, and has been appreciative of being able to work flexible employment hours. She is now metnoring staff herself and believes it's important to encourage and support others in their careers. In addition to her BBS, Julia has a post-graduate diploma in Business & Administration and a Masters of Management, both of which she studied and completed while working for Police.

    Julia Lynch
  • Sue Schwalger

    Year joined: 
    1983
    Current rank: 
    Superintendent
    Current role: 
    Central District Commander

    Superintendent Sue Schwalger joined the New Zealand Police in 1983.

    Sue has held many different roles within Police, including Surveillance Officer, Drugs and Organised Crime Investigator, District Crime Manager and Whanganui Area Commander. Sue has worked at Police National Headquarters, as well as in several Police districts, which has given her a broad knowledge and expertise in many different areas of policing.

    Sue has also worked as a Detective on many high profile murder cases, including the shooting of farmer Scott Guy. However she says that of all the cases she’s worked on, the child abuse and child homicides cases are the ones that stay with her, as they are a reminder of the vulnerability of children and the duty adults have to protect them.

    Currently Sue is one of three female District Commanders in New Zealand. As the Central District Commander, Sue has overall responsibility for the delivery of policing services to her district, which stretches from Taranaki down to Manawatu, and includes around 40 police stations.

    Sue Schwalger
  • Sandra Manderson, QSM

    Year joined: 
    1987
    Current rank: 
    Superintendent

    Superintendent Sandra Manderson decided at the young age of six that she wanted to join the New Zealand Police, because she wanted to work in the community and for the community.

    She joined the New Zealand Police in 1978. During her career with the Police she has held a range of positions including Criminal Investigation Branch (CIB), frontline and operational appointments. In 1993 she was awarded a Queen Services Medal for services to the community.

    Sandra was the first female officer to ever be promoted to Superintendent. After her promotion she became National Manager of Organisational Performance based at Police National Headquarters, which involved evaluating the police performance in the entire organisation. Later she became the first female to be appointed as a District Commander, becoming Canterbury’s District Commander in 2002. She thoroughly enjoyed being Canterbury’s District Commander, working with great staff, government departments, local Councils and the community to make a difference in the District.

    She has also achieved a number of other firsts in her career. She was the first Director of the Crime Prevention Unit in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Police’s first National Manager of Organisational Performance and the first female Police attaché to the Americas, based in Washington DC.

    When Prince Charles visited New Zealand in 2012 she was the Commander of Policing around the visits. She also was the National Commander for policing for the 2015 FIFA Under-20 and ICC Cricket Cup. Sandra is currently based at Police National Headquarters, working as the International Services Group Manager. She is also President of the Police Guild.

    Sandra Manderson, QSM
  • Karyn Malthus

    Year joined: 
    1987
    Current rank: 
    Superintendent
    Current role: 
    Tasman District Commander

    "Each and every day we strive to help keep our communities safe as well as to provide some form of justice and closure for victimes and their families when crime occurs. I am continually in awe of the dedication and work ethic of our police officers and employees and am proud to be part of New Zealand Police."

    Karyn has spent the majority of her career in the Criminal Investigations Branch (CIB), having joined CIB in her fifth year with Police. In 2001 Karyn moved to Counties Manukau as a Detective Sergeant, where she was promoted to Senior Sergeant and then Detective Senior Sergeant.

    Inspired to become a Detective, Karyn joined CIB after working on her first homicide in Hamilton in the early 1990s. During ehr time with the CIB, Karyn has been involved in many high-profile investigations, including Operation Jade and Operation Pickford, which both involved the murders of women in South Auckland. She also worked on investigating the murder of two men during a series of aggravated robberies, which resulted in the successful prosecution of five offenders. In 2009, Karyn was promoted to Detective Inspector in Northland before continuing in that role in Auckland City District until 2014.

    Karyn recently celebrated 28 years' of service with the Police. She is now based in Nelson as the Tasman District Commander, which covers Marlborough, Nelson and the West Coast. In her role Karyn has overall responsibility for the delivery of policing services in Tasman District, and leads a team of 363 people spread accross 22 stations.

    Since moving to Nelson, Karyn started bushwalking, taking advantage of many of the beautiful scenic tracks in the West Coast, Abel Tasman and Marlborough areas, and has taken up photography to capture the beauty of the landscapes. Being a District Commander means a lot of travel, so when she is away she tries to get out and see the sights as much as possible to give herself some down time.

    Karyn Malthus
  • Virginia Le Bas

    Year joined: 
    1991
    Current rank: 
    Superintendent
    Current role: 
    National Manager Organised Crime

    Detective Superintendent Virginia Le Bas joined the New Zealand Police in 1991. Prior to joining, she had worked as a secondary school teacher, after studying a Bachelor of Physical Education, a Post Graduate Diploma in Sports Medicine and receiving her Teaching Diploma at Otago University.

    Virginia started off her Police career on the frontline. Two years later she joined the Criminal Investigations Branch (CIB), where she has been for the past 23 years. During her time as a Detective she has led many high-profile homicide and organised crime investigations. Her work as an investigator led to her receiving a Commissioner’s Commendation in 2014 for her commitment, professionalism and dedication to duty. She has also received a Long Service Star for 21 years’ service.

    Virginia was seconded to the Australian Federal Police in 2003 as a Program Manager in the Law Enforcement Cooperation Program. She has also travelled to a number of Pacific nations to provide investigative training as part of a capacity building project on behalf of the Pacific Chiefs of Police. More recently she was seconded as the New Zealand Police Commissioner’s Senior Advisor.

    Currently Virginia is the National Manager Organised Crime. She is the first female to be appointed to this role, as well as the first appointed female Detective Superintendent.

    Outside of work, Virginia is a keen cyclist and she frequently competes in long distance mountain and road cycle races with her partner Bob. They also enjoy travelling overseas, often touring around Europe for a few weeks at a time on their bicycles.

    Virginia Le Bas
  • Penny Gifford

    Year joined: 
    1993
    Current rank: 
    Inspector
    Current role: 
    Project Lead, Family Violence Integrated Safety Response Model

    Inspector Penny Gifford joined the New Zealand Police in 1993.

    Penny started her career in Invercargill as part of the General Duties Branch, but aspired to join the Criminal Investigations Branch (CIB) and the Armed Offenders Squad (AOS), so in 1999 she transferred Wellington to commence training for both. She says the AOS course was by far the most challenging course she’s ever done, but also the most rewarding.

    After finishing CIB and AOS training, Penny spent a large majority of her next 13 years with the CIB. Being part of the CIB meant taking responsibility for ensuring people, including children who had been the victims of serious crimes, received the justice and outcomes they deserved. She says the cases she worked on during her time with the CIB remain etched in her memory and help drive the work she does today.

    Penny also spent six years as part of the AOS, which she describes as the highlight of her career. She says it’s an incredibly close unit, knowing that she’s responsible for the guys in her stack, and they for her. From shots being fired at the team down a driveway, to being part of a team returning a baby safely to its mother, Penny says when the pager went off, there was no telling what she would be confronted with.

    Currently Penny is the Project Lead for the new Family Violence Integrated Safety Response Model. It is a multi-agency project, designed to provide a better response for families and whanau who suffer family violence. She also has recently been promoted from Senior Sergeant to Inspector.

    Penny Gifford
  • Sandra Venables

    Year joined: 
    1994
    Current rank: 
    Superintendent
    Current role: 
    Eastern District Commander

    Superintendent Sandra Venables joined the New Zealand Police in 1994.

    After attending Police College, Sandra started her career in Hamilton, before she was transferred to Kaitaia and promoted to Sergeant. During her career she has worked as the Northern District Family Violence Co-ordinator, the Inspector in charge of Eastern Bay of Plenty, and Senior Sergeant in charge of Waikato’s Thames-Coromandel area.

    Sandra loves her job and has appreciated the experiences she has had while with Police, including working and living in some remote communities across the North Island. A particular career highlight for her was attending the 2014 Gallipoli commemorations in Turkey as a Liaison Officer.

    Also in 2014, Sandra became the first female to be appointed as the Eastern District Commander. As District Commander Sandra has overall responsibility for the delivery of policing services to the Eastern District, which covers the area from East Cape through to Southern Hawke’s Bay.

    Sandra Venables
  • Donna Howard

    Year joined: 
    1991
    Current rank: 
    Inspector
    Current role: 
    Wairarapa Area Commander

    Inspector Donna Howard joined the New Zealand Police in 1991.

    After Donna graduated from Police College, she started her career in the General Duties Branch in Porirua, beforel she joined the Criminal Investigations Branch (CIB) in 1997.

    After Donna qualified as a Detective she joined the Organised Crime Unit (OCU) in 2001. Mike Oxnam and Andrea Jopling were her mentors at the CIB, and she believes she was very fortunate to have been mentored by them.

    After a few years with the OCU Donna was promoted to Detective Sergeant. She was then deployed to the Solomon Islands, as Team Leader National Investigations, based in Honiara. Donna was also part of a United Nations deployment to Timor Leste (East Timor). After roles in General Duties and Intelligence, she became the Community Policing Team Leader of a Becora substation in Dili.

    Following her overseas deployments Donna was promoted to Detective Senior Sergeant, and she became Crime Strategy Manager. In early 2014, Donna was promoted to Inspector in the Professional Standards group.

    In early 2016 Donna took up her current role as Wairarapa Area Commander. As the Area Commander, Donna manages 75 staff across three stations, three district councils and a large geographical area.

    Donna has a close knit group of friends in and out of the Police that she spends her time with, both in a sporting capacity and socially. They like to cycle, swim and go to the gym together for fun, challenging themselves and having a lot of laughs along the way. She has competed in several Half-Ironmans, challenging herself to overcome her fear of swimming in open water.

    Donna Howard
  • Sarah Stewart

    Year joined: 
    1997
    Current rank: 
    Inspector
    Current role: 
    Manawatu Area Commander

    Inspector Sarah Stewart joined the New Zealand Police in 1997.

    Sarah started her working life as a teacher in Gisborne in 1995 but left after two years to follow in the footsteps of her father, who had been a Sergeant with the Police.

    After graduating from Police College, Sarah moved back to Gisborne for five years. She then joined the Criminal Investigation Branch (CIB) in Lower Hutt. During her time with the CIB, Sarah was sent to the Solomon Islands, spending 12 months there working on Civil War homicides and mentoring police officers.

    Sarah says there was one case in particular that she investigated during her time in the Solomon Islands that she is really proud of. Three teenage boys had been murdered during the Civil War and their families had to bury their bodies quickly and leave the area to get away from the militants. As the militants still lived in the area, the family hadn’t been able to return. Sarah and her team were able to investigate the homicides and eventually negotiate the surrender of the five offenders. Once the village was safe, the families were able to return to their home and have a proper burial for the boys.

    After her time in the Solomon Islands, Sarah moved to Hawke’s Bay in 2008 to work as a Police Deployment Manager. Currently Sarah is the Manawatu Area Commander, a role which she has been in since mid-2015. She is the first female Area Commander in Manawatu.

    Sarah Stewart
  • Naila Hassan

    Current rank: 
    Inspector
    Current role: 
    Western Waikato Area Commander

    When Naila Hassan was a teenager, she knew being a Police Officer was what she wanted to do for her career. However when she left school she wasn’t old enough to join, so she spent the summer working as a lifeguard and a postie.

    When Naila first joined the New Zealand Police she tried hard not to stand out as being ‘different’, especially as she was the only woman in her section. Diversity within the organisation back then was not as promoted as it is now, so she also kept to herself that she was a Muslim. However attitudes have come a long way since then and Naila is proud to be Muslim and working for an organisation that values diversity within its ranks.

    Naila has spent the majority of her career with Police in Auckland. She spent six years in the Criminal Investigations Unit, and has also been a Prosecutor, a District Prosecutions Manager, an Area Prevention Manager, a Policing Development Manager, and a Youth and Communities Manager.

    During her time with the Police Naila has also completed three degrees – a Bachelor of Policing (Investigations) from Charles Sturt University in Sydney, a Law Degree from Auckland University and a Masters in Strategic Studies from Victoria University.

    Currently Naila is the Western Waikato Area Commander, based in Huntly. Being the Area Commander can be challenging but Naila finds it extremely rewarding and she tries to get out on the frontline with her staff as often as she can.

    Outside of her career with Police, Naila is a lifeguard at Piha during the summer. Along with her partner Pete, she is an active road cyclist and they both enjoy spear fishing and free diving. They also help Naila’s twin sister raise her two teenage boys.

    Naila Hassan
  • Amelia Steel

    Year joined: 
    1997
    Current rank: 
    Inspector
    Current role: 
    Southern District Operations Manager

    Inspector Amelia Steel joined the New Zealand Police in 1997.

    During her time with Police Amelia has worked in the Police Legal Section, Police Professional Conduct team, and for Prosecutions in both Lower Hutt and Dunedin.

    Prior to joining Police, Amelia completed a psychology degree. Once she became a police officer, she went back to study part-time and completed a law degree before joining the Police Prosecutions team in 2004. In 2010 Amelia was promoted to Senior Sergeant and became the first female District Prosecutions Manager for the Southern District.

    In 2013 Amelia was promoted from Senior Sergeant to Inspector. She was one of the first female Inspectors to be based in Dunedin permanently, along with Inspector Mel Aitken. Amelia remembers this as one of the defining moments of her career, because it meant she was in a position of influence which gave her the capability to make significant contributions to benefit staff and the organisation.

    Currently Amelia is the Southern District’s Operations Manager. She is also the lead of the Southern District’s Women’s Advisory Network, a group that helps support women in Police to reach their full potential.

    Amelia Steel
  • Mel Aitken

    Year joined: 
    1999
    Current rank: 
    Inspector
    Current role: 
    Acting West Coast Area Commander

    Inspector Mel Aitken joined the New Zealand Police in 1999, after completing a degree at the University of Otago. She was part of Wing 183, which is the first wing where all 80 recruits were sent straight to Auckland.

    Despite starting out in Auckland, Mel has spent the majority of her career in the Southern District in operational and frontline response roles. She is currently the West Coast Area Commander, a role which she says was a step outside her comfort zone and something she had never dreamed of doing.

    Before taking on the Area Commander role, Mel didn’t know much about the West Coast but says the role has given her an opportunity to do things that most police officers in a similar role wouldn’t.  Because the area is so large geographically, there is a real reliance on community and inter-agency support to get things done. “Everybody just chips in, no complaints, no moans - just hard workers that want to do a great job every day. That’s what makes me the most proud.”

    Outside of work Mel is a competitive distance runner, a hobby she took on later in life. Competing in half and full marathons has given her the opportunity to race around some beautiful parts of the country. Through racing she has also met some incredibly talented people who share her passion for running. Last year she took out both the New Zealand Cross Country Title and New Zealand Road Running Title for her age group.

    Mel Aitken
  • Karen Henrikson

    Year joined: 
    2003
    Current rank: 
    Inspector
    Current role: 
    Waikato District Operations Manager

    Inspector Karen Henrikson joined the New Zealand Police in 1983 as part of Wing 88.

    During her time with the Police Karen has worked in Porirua, Tokoroa and Hamilton in the Public Safety Team, Investigations, and Prevention. In 2008 she was promoted to Inspector, the first female in the Waikato District to reach this rank. In 2012 Karen was awarded the "Most Outstanding Female Leader" in the Australasian Excellence in Policing Awards, held in Canberra, Australia.

    Karen is currently the Operations Support Manager for Waikato. In this role Karen is responsible for a variety of areas within the Waikato District, including Case Management, Firearms Licensing, and Search and Rescue. She works closely with Civil Defence and Emergency Services planning for possible major incidents, as well as the planning of major events such as VIP tours, international sporting events and local community events. She is also on the District Leadership Team, which make decisions on the District’s focus and priorities.

    Outside of her role at Police, Karen has been heavily involved with netball. She is an ex-Silver Fern and has also coached teams for Waikato. Karen says that coaching is comparative to managing staff, as it involves managing different personalities, setting goals, strategising, motivating, teaching, and providing constructive feedback to enable high performance.

    In recent years Karen has taken a step back from netball to focus on her career, however she still enjoys watching games in her spare time. She also enjoys off-road cycling, gardening and fishing.

    Karen Henrikson