Back on the front line

Back on the front line

After 12 years in Police, Constable Damien O’Kane has achieved his dream job – even if it meant giving up his sergeant stripes to do it.

Damien graduated with patrol dog Pac from the Dog Training Centre (DTC) at Trentham last week and is now a fully-fledged member of Tasman District’s dog section, based in Greymouth and covering the West Coast.

He was Sergeant O’Kane, led Huntly West Neighbourhood Policing Team for three years and held an Acting Senior Sergeant position for five months. But when a trainee dog handler position was advertised in Tasman he decided to go for it.

“Being a dog handler was something I always wanted to do,” he says. “It just went on the back burner for a bit while I fostered puppies, passed promotion exams and worked in other roles.

“I thoroughly enjoyed my frontline experience and supervising staff in Waikato, but it was while fostering my third Police pup that I realised dogs is where I want to be, actively out on the street and not in an office.”

He took up his new role on Monday (10 December). At the graduation he said working with a dog absolutely lived up to his expectations. “I’m really looking forward to getting out on the street and actually doing the job.”

He says two-year-old Pac – nephew of slain Wellington dog Gazza – was a great training partner. “He’s a really cool dog. He’s pretty relaxed and can chill out – but when he needs to do the business he can switch into it and do what he needs to.”


The group with Inspector Todd Southall, centre, and instructors Constable Josh Robertson and Sergeant Sue Burridge.


Damien was one of 10 handlers who graduated last week. Seven were first-timers, while three were experienced handlers qualifying with new dogs.

The most experienced graduate was Senior Constable Christian Hogan, from Whanganui, Central District, a dog handler for most of his 22 years’ Police service. Veto, 22 months, is his seventh dog.

Two graduates apiece are heading to Northland, Wellington and Tasman districts.

Constable Alan Duncan and his third dog Yawk, and new handler Constable Josh Van Der Kwaak, with Caesar, will be based in Whangārei.

The Wellington pair - Constables Cam Mullenger, with Loki, and Regan Woodmass, with Taylor - are first-time handlers. Cam previously served in Northland, and Regan in Central District.

Joining Damien in Tasman is first-time handler Constable Kyle White, with Vako, who is based in Blenheim. Kyle previously worked in Wellington and Hastings.

Constable Craig Moore, of Canterbury, graduated with Yuko. Craig also has patrol dog Oz, and together they were National Patrol Dog Champions in 2017. Craig and Yuko were not at the ceremony.

Constable Ben Nelson graduated with Darth, son of patrol dog Vader. He joined Auckland Dog Section earlier this year.

Constable Matt Donnithorne, who graduated with Yunka, joined Police in Eastern District in 2009 after a career with the Royal NZ infantry Regiment. He is another first-timer and he and Yunka will serve in Hawke’s Bay.

The dogs included two sets of siblings - Yuko, Yawk and Yunka, and Veto and Vako. All were bred at Trentham.

And she wasn’t there, but it would have been a proud day for DTC supermum Dallas, the now-retired breeding bitch who was mother to four of the graduating dogs – the Y-litter siblings and Loki.

Assistant Commissioner Mike Rusbatch addressed the ceremony, reminding the handlers that as well as their role “chasing down villains” they had an important part to play in boosting public trust and confidence in Police.

Inspector Todd Southall, National Coordinator, Police Dogs, says the calibre of the handlers and dogs graduating reflects the hard work and commitment of the officers, supported by Dog Section, the staff at the DTC and Police generally.

“We’re a high-performing team in Police and positions, when they come up, are always keenly contested,” he says.

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