On the beat with Smiley
Saltwater sprays off the tyres as the 4WD police truck heads north along the white sandy expanse of 90 Mile Beach. Gulls ride the wind as waves surge up the sand.
Senior Constable Leon Shepherd expertly steers around the edge of the foaming water and avoids the soft sand at the base of the dunes.
He’s known as Smiley to his mates and it doesn’t take long to discover why. Get him talking about his passions for policing - and fishing - and a beaming smile spreads across his face.
“I enjoy doing my job with the community rather than policing by myself,” says Leon.
“Every day is different, going from Fisheries to hanging out with the community. I’ve built quite a good rapport with the community.
Leon works out of New Zealand’s most northerly police station - Houhora, 70km south of Cape Rēinga. It’s nestled in the heart of the seaside community, up the road from the fishing wharf and 50 metres from the local café, Four Square and bottle shop.
Leon has Aopöuri and Ngatï Kuri iwi links that connect him to the Far North whenua.He’s been back for three years, learning about the place and the people. Pre-COVID, during the busy summer, he had the help of his sister, Senior Constable Gail Shepherd, sole-charge officer at Kohukohu.
“There are up to 20 buses a day going along the beach. And on the stretch of road to the Cape there can be a queue that tails back about 4km.“It’s cool to have us both working in the area we grew up in.”The Far North's stunning coastline presents its own policing challenges. Photo: NZ Police.
“It’s illegal to take – there’s a total ban - but we’ve had a bit of problem with locals and outsiders coming up and filling up buckets.
Meanwhile, back at the station... Photo: NZ Police.
“Every now and again we have the highway guys coming up here and their visibility helps deter.”
'Not a bad office, aye...' .Photo: NZ Police.
“Not a bad office, aye,” he beams.
He’s not wrong.
Smiley - Senior Constable Leon Shepherd. Photo: NZ Police
- Kristin Edge/NZ Police