Bruce Russell may have had some explaining to do on Monday (5 June).
News that he’s being made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit (ONZM) in the King’s Birthday Honours came as a surprise to the former wingmates he's holidaying with - and even to his wife of 50 years, who he’s kept the secret from for the past month.
The recognition is for Bruce’s service to Police over five decades, most recently in his role as an investigator in asset recovery based in Tauranga.
It’s an award Bruce says he 'anguished' about accepting. “They give you about three weeks to respond and I really anguished in that time as to whether I would accept the honour."
Ultimately, he did so to recognise others: his wife Marilyn, who has stood by him through his 53-year career; his kids Garrod, Toni and Anna; and all those he has worked with.
The long weekend also happened to coincide with a trip away with five former wingmates who stood beside him in January 1970 when he joined up - so it may have been an interesting morning.
The honour will rank among the highlights of Bruce's career.
“My fond memories are not of one event but of periods of time,” he says.
Among those are running the Child Sexual Abuse Unit and, more recently, his work in financial crime.
“I’ll have fond memories of the work I am doing now. I enjoy it, and I’m going to miss it when I retire.”
Not that retirement is in the immediate future for Bruce. While Marilyn has been reminding him of the things they have planned once retirement sets in, Bruce says there’s still work to do.
“I am passionate about completing some big jobs. I reckon I can put another $20 million in the Proceeds of Crime fund before I retire, if I do my job right.”
That’s in addition to the $48 million that’s been restrained so far.
While this type of work was almost unimaginable when he began his policing career, that’s probably part of the attraction.
“I’ve always been interested in new things – that pioneering influence you can have when there is the opportunity to try something new.
“Once you get that knowledge it empowers you to do things better. It’s challenging and the more complex the job the more satisfying. I really enjoy that puzzle-solving.”
And it goes right back to the reason he joined Police all those years ago – “wanting to do things for people”.
“That’s never changed. I see myself as an advocate for people. I’m pretty passionate about justice and I hate injustice. If I had my life again I would do it exactly the same way.”
In the meantime, he says, the honour will act as some form of acknowledgement to the way his family has been impacted by having a husband and father as a police officer.
“With 25 or 26 years in the AOS, callouts day or night do disrupt plans, whether that’s a holiday you’re about to go on or a birthday party about to happen that goes ahead without you. My wife has been a tremendous provider to the kids and myself.
"I’d like to think this honour is not about me, but more about the great team of people I have had, and still have the privilege of working with. Our successes are most frequently because of the teamwork I am so lucky to be involved with."
A snapshot of Bruce’s career
- Began in 1970 as a cadet
- Had a varied constabulary career including frontline (Auckland and Dunedin), and commencing with CIB in Dunedin in 1975
- Promoted to Detective Sergeant in Invercargill in 1978
- 25 years in Armed Offenders Squads (Dunedin/Hamilton)
- Established Waikato’s first child sexual abuse investigation unit in 1988
- Joined the Proceeds of Crime unit as Detective Sergeant in 1993
- Worked for a joint UN/Commonwealth Secretariat initiative as an anti-money laundering advisor in the Pacific from 2002-2006
- Now works in a non-constabulary investigator’s role in the Asset Recovery Unit based in Tauranga