Friday, 18 August 2023 - 4:09pm

So long to Southern Sweeney

6 min read

News article photos (2 items)

Inspector Mick Woods with one of the UK Police 'Bobby hats' he brought with him to Dunedin.
Mick (front and centre) with his Armed Tactical Unit in the UK.

“I didn’t like bullies.”

Inspector Mick Woods responds quickly to what made him sign up to become a constable with Sussex Police back in September 1981.

“There’s probably a higher calling to it,” says Mick, “but I didn’t like bullies at school and, at its crux, this is all about making people feel safer.”

Mick’s trademark grin flashes before he reveals another reason.

A fresh-faced Mick in 1981 - and not so fresh-faced, Regan and Carter, aka The Sweeney.

“Plus, there was a TV programme on at the time in the UK called The Sweeney - cockney rhyming slang for Sweeney Todd, Flying Squad – and it featured a pair who’d roar around arresting bank robbers. I thought ‘that looks better than working in the supermarket’.” (A fresh-faced Mick is pictured above, right, in 1981 - next to a not so fresh-faced, Regan and Carter, aka The Sweeney.)

If Mick was after some better work stories, he certainly found a few on the front line in southern England, particularly at the height of the country’s dark days of football hooliganism.

“Brighton were in the First Division at the time, and we’d get bussed in on a weekend to police the games.

“You’d have hundreds of cops at the matches, police dogs, police horses, and it’d end up just being a great big punch-up every weekend. Loads of arrests. A bit different to a game at the Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin.”

They were some exciting times for a fresh-faced 18-year-old probationary constable posted in Eastbourne on England’s south coast - a town that served up plenty of action for Mick to cut his policing teeth on.

“Back in those days you walked for two years. You got put out on the beat and you walked the town centre. And Eastbourne was a really weird town.

"During the day it was a big retirement town with old ladies on the beach eating candy floss, but when the sun went down the place went feral.

“It had more nightclubs than anywhere else on the south coast of England, and it was carnage. You’d walk the town centre and you just had to deal with all the people once the pubs and clubs kicked them out. That’s how you learnt your trade.”

Learning his trade well, Mick soon made the move to work with Ports of Dover Police. This brought all manner of interesting jobs, from drug smuggling to human trafficking and much more.

Mick (back row, third from left) with Ports of Dover Police. 
Mick (back row, third from left) with Ports of Dover Police.

“I really loved that. There were 21 million people going through that port every year, it was such an interesting place to work.”

Mick took a break in service to work with P&O Cruises but was drawn back by his love of policing. After an enjoyable stint in Dover, it was off to Kent Police where he spent the next 12 years. 

Then came a promotion to sergeant, a move into management training, then an exciting operational stint as a Bronze Firearm Commander with the Armed Tactical Unit, which saw Mick get hands-on across a number of significant operations.

“One of the biggest jobs I was involved in was the famous Millennium Dome diamond robbery. 

“It was pretty full-on, and the hours were horrendous. One time the inspector called up at 4am, my missus answered, and she wouldn’t pass the phone over to me – she was that sick of getting late calls at home.”

Mick, centre, with his Kent Police Armed Tactical Unit, and (right) in action with the team. 
Mick, centre, with his Kent Police Armed Tactical Unit, and (right) in action with the team.

Thoughts about a different lifestyle were obviously percolating and, as luck would have it, in 2003 Mick came across an advertisement for joining New Zealand Police. “I spoke to my wife, and we thought, ‘what an adventure’.”

A successful application meant Mick and his family were soon packing their bags, and a transitional course at The Royal New Zealand Police College followed.

Mick was deployed to Counties Manukau and worked out of Pukekohe initially, and his experience was also put to great use on a stint at Auckland Airport.

Working in Counties was a thrill for Mick, who thrived in high-paced operational environments.

“I’d often say to people back in the UK who asked me what it was like, ‘Counties punches at its own weight!’ It’s an interesting and very busy place.”

Mick’s skills and experiences in training and development were put to excellent use in Counties too. He was shoulder-tapped to create and implement a Field Training Officer development programme, which was subsequently picked up in other districts.

“It was based around learning styles rather than the details of laws. People learn differently and it was all about how you bring out the best in people.”

After being promoted to senior sergeant, Mick was soon made OC of the Mobile Police Station in Counties.

“It was like a surge capacity unit, and we had a great big command truck, supporting I-cars and a team of about 15. And if there was an area with a particular issue, we would be deployed as a problem-solving unit.”

Then there were stints with Youth and Community, and a role as Tactical Crime Unit senior sergeant in Manurewa.

“That was at the time when Manurewa was having a real problem with homicides. We had ministers flying in and I was running around 'Rewa - aka 'Rewa Hard – tackling some very interesting jobs.”

Soon Mick would tackle another very interesting role when in 2009 he was promoted to inspector and made OC of Auckland Airport. However, the role didn’t last long as Mick was pulled into acting as Area Commander for Counties Manukau West.

“That lasted three years, and it was… hard. Probably the most demanding stint I’ve ever had.”

One horrifying incident exemplified the challenges Mick faced and stands out to this day.

“I remember getting a call from Mike Bush very early one morning telling me I’d better get into work quickly because one of my officers had just been shot.”

That officer was Constable Jeremy Snow. Just three days before Christmas in 2009, Jeremy was shot by a drug dealer who would later be charged with attempted murder. “I visited Jeremy a lot for about a year-and-a-half after that.”

A number of roles - including back at the airport, a trip to Christchurch to support the earthquake recovery efforts, and an eventual move into the Professional Conduct Manager role for Counties - added to Mick’s extensive list of experiences.

In 2017, he transferred to Southern and took on the newly created role of Deployment Manager.

“It was a tricky one, as the majority of my experience was in the operational side of things, and I wasn’t too familiar with the geography of the district, which didn’t help. Plus, MyPolice had just arrived - a big change to the whole HR system on which deployment was built. It was a challenging time all right."

But more challenges were to come.

Solomon Islands policing - on a boat, and on a stage (Mick is seated on the right). 
Solomon Islands policing - on a boat, and on a stage (Mick is seated on the right).

“I went to the Solomon Islands on a deployment opportunity supporting the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force. It was something completely different and I really enjoyed it. But the second year, well, that was tough.”

COVID. The pandemic meant Mick couldn’t come back to visit his family and extended his Solomons stay. He was stuck.

“I wouldn’t say there was anxiety but there was a real uncertainty around what we were facing in those early days of COVID. And as lockdowns progressed and borders shut, being 6000 miles away from home was... difficult.”

Finally making his way back in April 2021, Mick was in time for the development of the Tactical Response Model (TRM) and was put to work for its implementation in Southern. With that in place, Mick saw a clear opportunity to leave on a high.

“TRM reinvigorated me, I’d say, and with that being brought in I thought it might be a good time to go out in a good space.”

And that’s only fitting for someone who has given 38 years to Police, across three countries and two hemispheres. But just one thing has made the biggest positive difference to the final stages of his career in Southern – the people.

“The people down here are really special. I’ve felt a greater sense of belonging and friendship down here than I have anywhere. I don’t know what it is, but they’ve made it a great place to close this chapter.”