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[Media Release - CIPS] A veteran takes a new turn

20 September 2021

Not many professionals will crack the 40-year mark of service – and then take up a new career.

John Strickland took that turn this week, transitioning from 41 years of serving the community with the Cook Islands Police Service and onto a new path as the incoming Director of Emergency Management Cook Islands (EMCI).

In some ways, the new post may not be such a huge challenge, given the Police Inspector’s extensive experience and range of duties throughout a career of leadership and management of multiple facets of policing. Strategic planning and coordinating teams of people has been his forte with the Police, since kicking off his career in 1980.

He was a young man then, impressionable and respectful of his elders, who were to instil in him the qualities of holding firm to the principles and values of policing, and the character it requires, day to day. Strickland had finished school at Tereora in 1979 and was approached by Inspector Tangata Vavia to sign up.

Only one other graduate has continued to serve from that original recruitment of 12 (S/Sgt. Teinaki Howard) so Strickland’s milestone of 41 years will soon be surpassed. But nevertheless, these two officers have a shared history of having endured the command of nine Commissioners while themselves having mentored countless recruits.

For Strickland, the guidance of senior Police Officers was invaluable. As a new recruit, he was shaped and mentored by the likes of Vavia, Tiki Matapo, Piho Rua, Goldie Goldie, Taivero Isamaela, and Metuatini Tangaroa.

“They were good mentors,” he recalls now, remembering some who have since passed.

“They kept you motivated.”

Strickland developed a steeliness for the job from the likes of Matapo, developing the stomach for the type of situations no one should experience let alone witness. Carnage on the road, fatalities, and even homicides, are on-the-job images that can stay with you for years.

Strickland says he can remember them all. The experiences and all the details still sit in the memory banks.

As a cop, Strickland has specialized in Traffic. Much of the training, the workshops, conferences, and events he’s attended over the years, have involved all aspects of taking control over road systems.

Soon after becoming a permanent Constable however, he’d been taken under the wings of Matapo and Vavia in the Criminal Investigation Branch. Within a few years, he was heading toward leadership roles.

Police College training in New Zealand was followed by Frontline duties where he was a Senior Supervisor. A six-month stint in Aitutaki in the late 80s was topped by a Supervisor of Traffic appointment by 1990, and Strickland attained the rank of Senior Sergeant.

He reached Inspector rank in 2001, taking the lead for Frontline and Traffic, and was already developing the planning skills for strategy and budgeting. He’d been seconded for a year to the then office responsible for Outer Islands (OMIA), which would herald further attachments for major development projects – the Police National Headquarters building (2006), and the TSA (sports arena) building (2008).

Strickland attended a range of capacity-building training throughout the Pacific over the

past 10 years, extending his experience and abilities in fields like small arms’ training, counter-terrorism, military climate strategy, maritime domain awareness, and prevention. He completed Senior Police leadership training in NZ and took on trainer duties in Tuvalu where Cook Islands expertise in command control and coordination has been tapped to assist the Australian Federal Police (AFP).

Strickland’s extensive duties have also been engaged in the establishment of Blue Light Cook Islands Inc. which is driving youth leadership programmes on Rarotonga and the Outer Islands. He’s continued to be engaged in road safety as well as the dog control committee and has qualified disaster management roles under emergency operations.

As if those responsibilities weren’t satisfying enough, the Police Inspector has upheld the role of Aide De Camp to the Head of State for more than 20 years, a position that calls for high-level sensitivity and adaptability. Strickland has managed the role with integrity, serving current and past Queen’s Representatives by understanding the roles and meeting the demands of any situation.

The veteran’s skills in meeting the demands of a broad range of situations and environments put him in good stead for what’s to come. As a police officer, Strickland has been able to evolve with the times. He’s maintained close linkages within the community, reaching out to a variety of stakeholders to adapt to changing social conditions – and the trends of unlawful activity.

He’s quick to point out those changes over the past several decades, such as the enormous growth in liquor licenses and consumption, vehicles on the road, and unsavoury criminal elements. But in the Police Service, Strickland has been near the forefront of helping to design policies and planning. He’s gone out to the community, schools, the Aronga Mana, politicians, and NGOs, as a means of coping with change.

Perhaps those who have coped best are Strickland’s family, the ones so often sidelined in the career of a Police Officer because of the demands of the job, especially at high levels. The Commander of Frontline and Prevention credits his family for pulling him through the tough times.

“The demands have to be balanced with family life,” he says.

“I want to thank my wife and children for accepting and understanding my work. I held on and persevered.”

That tenacity and attention to detail is what Strickland is likely to draw on as his career takes a new turn. While already skilled and experienced in disaster management as a cop, the new Director of EMCI will soon be embedded in another cyclone season of uncertainty.

Applying a safe and experienced hand to the coordination and support of effective responsiveness will be the key.


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