From the frontline in Papakura to the corridors of power, Deputy Commissioner Glenn Dunbier’s career has been far from dull. And there was the Queen as well.
Glenn retired on Friday (31 Mar) as Deputy Commissioner: Operations after 37 years of policing at home and overseas, including frontline, CIB, area and district command before he arrived at the Executive table.
He says he is proud to have been a leader in an organisation with the courage to look hard at itself and take painful decisions to stay relevant to the community.
He joined in 1985 when he was 19. “I was brought up in Manurewa and there was a gang pad next to where we lived,” he says.
“It was exciting to have police coming up and down the street all the time – I guess I thought it would be a pretty cool job.
“I also had an ingrained sense of right and wrong and fairness - which I see in my children now – which was another motivation.”
His entry to the service was, by accident, a historic one. He was due to join Wing 98 but broke his ankle and joined Wing 100 instead.
This was the centenary wing that graduated in front of Her Majesty the Queen in February 1986, a day of great historic and lasting significance for New Zealand Police.
History does not record, however, what Her Majesty thought of the tiny cup she presented to the new Constable Dunbier as a firearms prize.
“They worked out the day before prizegiving that there was no prize so they went and bought this tiny little tin cup. If you look at the photo of me receiving it you can only just see it.”
A royal handshake for the new Constable Dunbier - and a very small cup (then and now).
Glenn was deployed to Papakura. He enjoyed the work but early on suffered a serious assault one night at Pukekohe.
“Probably, knowing what I know now, I had some sort of PTSD from that, but back then there was little in the way of welfare, psychologist’s help or anything like that.
“But it woke me up to the fact that this was a dangerous job and I tailored my approach differently, not being so gung ho and a bit more careful around interacting with people.
"I learnt to use my voice more than my feet and my hands.”
From the frontline he moved to Otahuhu to start his CIB career, finding South Auckland a great place to learn the craft.
After taking on a variety of roles over the next 10 years, including coaching and managing others, he sought a new challenge, leading to appointment as Eastern Waikato Area Commander.
“I went back into uniform for the first time in a long time and fell back in love with policing.
“I really enjoyed it as an area commander, particularly on the Coromandel, knowing a little bit about everything that goes on there rather than being the expert in any one thing. I learnt I was better in that sort of leadership than being the owner of a function or a specialty.”
In 2010 Glenn moved from Waikato to Bay of Plenty as district commander. “I loved both of those jobs. Those are where I really found my place in Police.”
A big part of the district commander job was repairing the relationship with Tūhoe in the wake of Operation 8. “That took a lot of time and patience and getting people to work with me.”
In 2011 the MV Rena hit a reef outside Tauranga. Another learning curve involved Police being part of the team, not the lead, in the huge operation.
“What I’m most proud of from that time is the people I’ve worked with who’ve gone on to be senior leaders in Police. Even some of my constables on section when I was a sergeant have gone on to be really good district commanders, detectives, detective senior sergeants, DIs.
“I like to see our people develop. It makes me proud to see them go on and make a significant contribution – it’s a bit like being a dad.”
As a member of the 'royal' Wing 100, Glenn received his 35-year clasp from then Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy in 2020. He will be back at Government House next month when he is invested as an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit (ONZM).
After four years in the Bay of Plenty, Glenn was promoted to Deputy Commissioner Resource Management and found himself working in Police National Headquarters (PHNQ) for the first time.
There was a steep learning curve around the PNHQ reality of “rubbing up against politics without any insulation in between”.
“It’s something that took me a long time to get used to and get OK at. I wouldn’t say I’m good at it, but I’m OK.”
As well as supporting districts and their mahi, PNHQ has a role “servicing the minister and the government push, as it should be, and it took me a while to learn the difference between being an operational commander and being here.”
He says Police is lucky in having a Commissioner in Andrew Coster who is skilled at negotiating the political complexities at the other end of Molesworth Street.
In 2017 Glenn was seconded to Australia as Deputy Executive Director of the Australian Civil-Military Centre. He could only watch from afar as colleagues in New Zealand dealt with crises such as the 15 March terror attack and then the Whakaari-White Island disaster, on his old patch.
“They were times when I felt like I was a long way from home.”
He returned to New Zealand in 2020, planning to retire. “But Commissioner Coster asked me to be part of the Executive and take the then district operations role. I’m so glad I did.
“Two of those years have been one of the most unique periods of New Zealand Police history, with the way we policed COVID. It seems like 10 years ago but only a year ago we were still doing that.”
Glenn headed Police’s pandemic response. “First the Level 4 lockdown, then the boundary checkpoints between Auckland and the rest of the country; iwi checkpoints; then MIQ; then the protests – not just the one down the road here [at Parliament] but Black Lives Matter in the middle of that.
"I don’t think there’s been another period like it where we were essentially stopping ordinary New Zealanders going about their lives.
“It’s only because of our really good reputation with our citizenry that we were able to do that without some of the conflicts we saw around the world.”
Three months after Constable Matthew Hunt’s death in Auckland in 2020, former New Zealand officer Sergeant Matiu Ratana was shot dead while working for the Metropolitan Police.
Glenn diverted from Turkey, where he was attending an Interpol conference, to represent New Zealand Police at Matiu’s COVID-delayed memorial service in London in 2021, with UK-based Senior Liaison Officer Detective Superintendent Chris Page.
“It was done really well by the Met,” he says. “It was a very moving occasion and very culturally appropriate, with te reo spoken and waiata sung by New Zealanders.”
Glenn and Detective Superintendent Chris Page with members of Ngāti Rānana at the memorial service for Sergeant Matiu Ratana.
Glenn’s farewell at PNHQ on 31 March was a visible sign of the wide impact of his career, with senior figures from a range of partner agencies present along with family, friends and colleagues past and present.
As he left, he reflected on Police’s success in producing “cops that go and police in Remuera or Ruatoria in a way that their communities want them to”.
“I think it’s really important that we are brave enough to be critical of ourselves and examine our status quo and see if we are still fit for purpose.
“The opposite to that is withdrawing into a ‘fortress police’ mentality. Anywhere else in the world where that’s happened police have ended up becoming irrelevant to the community they serve.
“It’s painful but it’s necessary to do. I’m 100 percent behind where Andy [Coster] has taken us in that respect. It’s not easy - it’s actually really hard to do but it’s necessary to keep relevant to your community.”
In retirement, he says, he aims to “give something back in ways that have nothing to do with building a career” and has committed to volunteer work in in the area of food poverty, distributing food to homeless people and helping in a community garden.
He’s also open to using his experience to help in other ways. “If someone feels they can use it they’re welcome to come knocking and I’ll consider doing it.
“But I don’t want to fill my life up too much because I want to experience what life’s like outside of Police.
“I’ve been in this organisation since I was a teenager – I grew up in Police and really don’t know what it’s like to not be a cop. So I’m keen to find out, before I’m too old.”
Commissioner Coster says Glenn is a man of unquestionable integrity, empathy and common sense whose contribution will have a lasting impact on the organisation.
“Glenn is one of those people that make an outsized contribution, without seeking credit or recognition. He has risen to every challenge from his days on the front line through to the huge task of managing our response to COVID-19 and doing so in a way which maintained public trust and confidence.
“On behalf of the organisation, I thank him for his service to Police and the communities he has served for 37 years, and for his personal support to me as Commissioner.”