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New Northland police district commander, Superintendent Matt Srhoj, takes the reins

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Northland’s newly appointed police district commander, Superintendent Matt Srhoj. Photo / Michael Cunningham

The Northland Police District’s record wait for a new boss is over as the district welcomed a long-serving officer to the helm.

Superintendent Matt Srhoj follows in the footsteps of former district commander Tony Hill, who left in June last year to lead the Christchurch police. The wait for Hill’s replacement is the longest a district commander position has been advertised in New Zealand since records began in April 2017.

While Srhoj’s 33-year career has been spread across all three of Auckland’s police districts – most recently Counties Manukau – his roots hark back to the Far North.

His great-grandfather moved to Waiharara, at the base of the Aupōuri Peninsula, in 1900 and was a farmer. His dad was raised in the small settlement before the family eventually made their way south to Auckland in the late 1950s.

“I used to holiday up there, used to love going up to Waipapakauri and Waiharara. Meeting family – I had aunties in Awanui… so there’s always been that pull North, I suppose,” Srhoj said.

Moreover, he felt he had something to offer the region. Boosting recruitment and connecting with the community are at the forefront of his to-do list.

Bringing in new cops has been a pressure point for Northland’s police force, as officers last December feared their blue line was thinning. Then relieving Northland District commander Inspector Dion Bennett claimed the district was at a turning point thanks to a five-year focus programme that would make the region a drawcard for new and experienced officers.

Srhoj said that work would continue under his watch.

Equally as important as the search for good officers was building community connectivity. The new police boss wants to create familiarity with community leaders so they can more easily get to the crux of grassroot issues when they arise.

“You cannot police a small town without being trusted and respected by the community,” Srhoj said.

But social media made earning the community’s trust in the modern day more difficult.

“Context is everything and often, as you know, we don’t get the full context of things… people like to show certain things in a certain light and that can be quite damaging and not accurate at times,” Srhoj said.

In terms of adjusting to life in the district, there was a lot he said he needed to get his head around, having never worked in Northland. A major difference between the region and Auckland was the rural policing aspect.

“There’s a lot of stations up here,” he said. Twenty in fact, most of which are manned by three or fewer police officers and spread out geographically from Houhora in the Far North to Ruawai in Kaipara.

The ability to get around to supervise and lead staff based in those stations will be one of the most challenging factors Srhoj faces have come from a district where everyone and everything was closer.

But whatever the challenges, he holds fast to his purpose: to give back and help others.

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