It was a night of celebration in extraordinary circumstances for the 22nd Australasian Council of Women in Policing (ACWAP) Excellence in Policing Awards.
Women from across New Zealand Police scooped six awards, including the two top honours, but COVID restrictions meant finalists couldn’t attend the awards ceremony in Australia. Instead, finalists watched a live Zoom event broadcast from Brisbane across Australasia on Thursday, with five local events held in Whangarei, Counties Manukau, Christchurch, Dunedin and Wellington.
Six of New Zealand’s 10 finalists received awards from a pool of more than 200 nominations across Australasia. The awards recognise the achievements of women and men who are contributing to improving policing and ensuring the services are enhanced for women.
Teressa (Karen) Poutai-Struginski, a Youth at Risk Youth Worker with Northland Police received the Audrey Fagan Memorial Award, which recognises outstanding women who have shown exceptional qualities as a mentor, role model and leader in law enforcement. The award is decided by the ACWAP Award Committee from all the nominations received across all categories.
Karen is the driving force behind the Police Youth Development Programme, that works with families of young people who are offending or at risk of offending, and says it is an honour and a privilege to receive the award.
"For the 20 years of my employment I have always felt 100 percent supported," she says. "My role gives me the opportunity to engage and connect and allows me to take steps to make positive changes."
Assistant Commissioner Sandra Venables was awarded the Council’s most prestigious Bev Lawson Memorial Award, which recognises a most outstanding woman who has been first in a law enforcement activity or support service.
Sandy, who was New Zealand’s first female constabulary Assistant Commissioner, was blown away with her win but says these awards are never about one person.
“This has been achieved by a group of people working together over many years. I have been so fortunate to love what I do and work alongside some amazing men and women."
Canterbury Organised Crime Detective Katherine Taylor was also recognised in this category with a Highly Commended Award for her outstanding leadership as a Gang Liaison Officer.
Safer People Director Superintendent Mel Aitken received the Most Outstanding Female Leader Award, which is awarded to a member who demonstrates dynamic and innovative leadership and has mentored and guided others and contributed significantly to their field.
Mel has led the redesign of New Zealand Police’s approach to health and safety services, creating the Safer People workgroup and associated structure. She says she is humbled by the win and the recognition of her leadership.
“I do what I do because it’s the right thing to do, not for the accolades, but it is wonderful to be recognised for being me and inspiring others."
PNHQ Advisory Officer Leonie Smiley, who successfully led a project to design, create, trial, and deploy an operational hijab in New Zealand Police, was recognised with a Highly Commended Award in the Most Outstanding Female Administrator category.
Counties Manukau initiative Te Wānanga Mana Wāhine was recognised for changing the narrative for wahine Māori in the district, receiving a Highly Commended Award in the Excellence in Law Enforcement for Women Initiative category.
More details of New Zealand's award recipients
Teressa (Karen) Poutai-Struginski - Audrey Fagan Memorial Award
Karen is the driving force behind the Police Youth Development Programme (YDP) which was established to work intensively with families of young people who are offending or at risk of offending. Karen is incredible at breaking down barriers between Police and communities. She has worked tirelessly over many years to improve outcomes for all women she works with.
Assistant Commissioner Sandra Venables – Bev Lawson Memorial Award
Sandra Venables was the first female Eastern District Commander and also the first female constabulary Assistant Commissioner. She has a deep commitment to supporting Māori, Pacific and ethnic women to thrive in police. She proactively identifies opportunities for women to develop their skills and abilities and enables women to support one another by creating a culture of trust, mutual respect, and inclusion.
Detective Katherine Taylor - Highly Commended in the Bev Lawson Award
Kate is recognised for her outstanding leadership as a Gang Liaison Officer. She is widely acknowledged for her skill, empathy, and innovation.
Superintendent Mel Aitken - Most Outstanding Female Leader Award
Mel Aitken is truly dedicated to improving the safety and wellness of people. Since 2018, she has led the redesign of New Zealand Police’s approach to health and safety services, creating the Safer People workgroup and associated structure. Mel displays her commitment to achieving organisational goals and leading people in a way that supports, enables and gives them confidence to perform at their full potential.
Police Employee Leonie Smiley - Highly Commended in the Most Outstanding Female Administrator Award
Leonie Smiley is recognised for her innovative, intelligent, and pragmatic approach. She has successfully led a project to design, create, trial, and deploy an operational hijab in New Zealand Police.
Te Wānanga Mana Wāhine – Highly Commended in the Excellence in Law Enforcement for Women Initiative Award
This Counties Manukau initiative is recognised for truly disrupting the status quo and changing the narrative for wahine Māori in the Manukau district. Women now have the opportunity to engage with a Marae-based supported resolution pathway. The individuals recognised with this award are Whaea Hineamaru Ropati and Georgette Falvell from Papatuanuku Kokiri Marae, Whaea Cruchanan Mciver and Verina Kingsley-Jones from Maori Women’s Welfare League and Constables Katie Perkins and Joanna Steedman from the Counties Manukau Supported Resolutions Team and Sergeant Susan (Huhana) Epiha.