Tuesday, 5 March 2024 - 2:05pm

From crime scenes to TV screens

5 min read

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Detective Senior Sergeant Rob Lemoto.

“It’s all I have ever known and all I have ever wanted to know.”

That’s how Detective Senior Sergeant Rob Lemoto describes his policing career as it draws to a close.

It’s been so much a part of his life that it’s literally etched into his skin – a tattoo he got of the three things most important to him features the Police chevron, alongside his family history including his daughters and his wife.

Applying at 20 and heading to Police college at 21, there’s very little of his adult life that hasn’t been spent as part of the Police whānau. Due to notch up 28 years in October, Rob admits there was a part of him that was tempted to stay in to get his 28-year clasp.

“I’m proud of what we do. I always have been. When I joined, I just wanted to chase bad people and drive Holdens. I didn’t know what policing really was.”

It’s not surprising it’s the other things that feature on the tattoo – his family - that are the pull behind Rob leaving.

“Policing for me is an addiction – I’ll miss it every day. There’s not a bone in my body that doesn’t love policing.”

Now he’s an empty-nester, and with the serious enquiries he’s working on in hand, there’s no better time to see what the next phase looks like. He credits that support of his wife and girls for playing a massive role in his policing career, now it’s time to enjoy the next chapter of his life with them.

“If I don’t do it now, I’ll never do it. In policing you work pretty hard, but you do it for the right reasons. It’s been a hell of a ride and it’s pretty hard not to get emotional about it. I’m really proud of what I have achieved.”

That’s included an “awful lot of homicides” in the Bay – especially over the past three years. In fact, he’s worked his leaving in with one of those, the trial of those accused of the murder of Eli Johnson.

He chose his final day to ensure there was time to get the trial going proper, and continued to watch on and support the family through to see the verdict - both offenders guilty of murder.

It's an example of the passionate and motivated investigator he is, according to Bay of Plenty Crime Manager, Detective Inspector Lew Warner.

"He has been at the forefront of many serious crimes across the Bay of Plenty. His drive and determination to do what is right is second-to-none, and his selfless acts are too many to mention.

"I have nothing but admiration for Rob, who is a once-in-a-generation investigator who epitomises all that is good."

Filming ​​​​​​on location for Ten 7 with Detective Nathan Hessell​ in Stratford in 2022. 
Filming ​​​​​​on location for Ten 7 with Detective Nathan Hessell​ in Stratford in 2022.

Rob's stellar career began with him cutting his teeth in Counties Manukau.

“They were outstanding people who just lived Our Values, before values were something that was printed and put on a wall” - before he moved to Tauranga where he developed his niche for CIB.

“I’ve done some crazy stuff. I’ve hidden in a pantry to catch an offender, dressed up as a courier. The improvisation when I joined CIB was just next level.”

He’s also been a member of AOS and spent time working in Bougainville.

What he probably never envisaged was becoming one of New Zealand’s most recognisable officers, fronting TV show Police Ten 7 since 2014 until it came to an end last year.

He balanced filming one day a week with policing the other days – “the production company got it down to a fine art and everyone was so supportive.”

Rob was approached for the role and shortlisted, but it was a Western Bay colleague who talked him into it.

“He was the one who said, ‘you love policing, you’ll get to do it from the top to the bottom of the country in this role'.

“The team behind the show were the biggest fans of New Zealand Police.

"When production stopped on the show it was very disappointing. We got results – 100 plus apprehensions one year. It just worked and the executive producers changed my life by giving me a chance to host.”

When the show ended, he had other offers come in, with some people unaware that presenting Ten 7 wasn’t his full-time job.

Sitting alongside so many highlights, there are cases that still occupy his mind where he wishes more could be achieved. The disappearance and likely death of a child in Opotiki in the 1950s is one.

What came to him as a two-page job sheet ended with multiple ring binders of information.

“It would have been good to get him back.”

He admits there’s a couple of other unsolved cases he would have loved to sink his teeth into, but balances that with the outstanding results that were achieved.

“There were a lot of CPT cases where, on the strength of the investigation, we got admissions. That meant we didn’t have to put young victims through the court process. One homicide case, more recently, we managed to get the body back for the family.”

The Ten 7 crew were Police's biggest fans, says Rob.
The Ten 7 crew were Police's biggest fans, says Rob.

Rob’s intrinsic involvement with so many serious crimes across the Bay over recent years means he’ll still be fronting courts for some time to come – only this time as a civilian.

He’s not entirely sure what will be next workwise but has big plans to go fishing “more than three times a year”.

Rob also says with the lifelong friends made, he’s not leaving the blue whānau completely.

“I’ve worked across Western Bay of Plenty, Eastern Bay of Plenty, Tokoroa, Taupō, Rotorua... we have such good people. I’m looking forward to reading in the paper about those people who go on to promote... I’ll be reading those names with a heap of pride.”

The pride that’s always marked his policing career.

District Commander Superintendent Tim Anderson worked with Rob on and off for the past 18 years.

"He is simply the most passionate police officer I've ever met."

Tim says while Rob was very well known for his outstanding work on Police Ten 7 - which resulted in a lot of catches - many weren't aware that while he was filming he was also working incredibly hard with victims of serious crime and child abuse.

"He was filming the show one day, the next he was arresting offenders for abusing the very children they should have been looking after.

"Rob is known widely by his peers as a colourful character with a great sense of humour and a positive attitude. He was also relentless when it came to catching the offenders he was after, and he would not rest until they were off the streets and being held accountable for their serious criminal behaviour."