50 years of women in policing

Sunday 28 March 2021 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Crime, Features, National, Weekend


50 years of women in policing
Cook Islands Women in Police. 23032617. PHOTOS Supplied by Rebecca Hosking-Ellis

Fifty years ago, two young women Jane Tauariki Tuavera and Makirua Luka graduated in the Cook Islands Police on March 29th 1971 – they paved the way for women policing in the country.

Over 100 women have been sworn in over 50 years, and currently there are 39 women in the police department and 71 former police women.

The Cook Islands Police Service executives, former women in policing and current colleagues have planned a celebration to commemorate the 50th anniversary for all women that served and still serving in the Cook Islands Police Service.

Coordinator of the event, former police officer Rebecca Hosking-Ellis says: “Women have worked alongside with their male colleagues: on frontline shifts, airport police, CIB detectives, and they have achieved international in the Pacific region and nationally.

Rebecca Hosking-Ellis wore a bullet proof vest while serving with RAMSI in the Solomon Islands in 2004/2005. 21032642.

“Our people should be proud of their passion, dedication and commitment in serving the government and protecting the people of this great nation. Women have faced many challenges and have overcome them.”

Jane Tuavera, retired on March 29, 2010 after 39 years (two months shy of 40 years) of faithful and dedicated service to policing; she moved to New Zealand for health reasons.

During her service she served 11 police commissioners – Tangata Nekeare, Sir Fred Goodwin, Elliot Khan, Jim Butterworth, Lindsay Todd, Tepure Tapaitau, Ronald Melrose, Tevai Matapo, Pira Wichman, Pat Tasker and Maara Tetava.

Tuavera travelled to New Zealand for further training and was the first woman in the First Sergeants course at the NZ Police College in Porirua that was opened by Prince Charles in 1981.

Some highlights of her career were achieved in the Criminal Investigation Bureau (CIB) that involved four rape cases – two of these from the outer islands.

Rebecca Hosking-Ellis who was policing at the time was the emcee at Tuavera’s farewell.

Cook Islands Airport Police in the late 1980’s. From left: John Samuel, Sergeant Tangaroa Vaikai, Rebecca Hosking, Tai Joseph. 21032641. PHOTOS Supplied by Rebecca Hosking-Ellis.

She joined the police at the age of 18, the only female of six recruits: Maara Tetava, Buntu Vainerere, Tuaine Manavaroa, Ake Tere and Araipu Tairi from the Sir Tangaroa Tangaroa Wing who graduated in June 1985.

Rebecca wasn’t keen to sign up for police work, “my father was a cop and two of my aunties… so I wanted to join the NZ Army.”

A friend convinced her to apply for the police job while she was attending Tereora College. Her application was successful.

Only with the stern encouragement from her Mama and Papa did she attend the induction.

Over the years, her interest and passion in policing grew.

“I started to get really involved helping people and people started trusting me. I was so passionate and I believed in – ‘you watch, you listen you learn’,” says Rebecca.

Women faced challenges, “there are barriers but I put it in a positive way and tell the girls we can do this, and they agreed and we carry on.

“People would say to me, that kind of work is for men. But you need women in there, women to deal with domestic violence, rape, children… a woman is only comfortable talking to another woman in these situations - not to a man…”

Rebecca received urgent calls late at night to escort women (sometimes with their children) who were escaping their abusive violent partners to the airport.

In those earlier days, she says most of the accidents occurred from drink driving and speeding on motor bikes.

“We (police) have seen so many gruesome things that is traumatising like terrible fatal road accidents, we don’t have psychologists to help us and some of the young ones left because of the trauma involved.

“What we did was, we talked about it amongst ourselves, our staff, expressing how we felt… it was the only way to help us cope.

Rebecca says the job wasn’t easy, adding the negative comments from members of the public were sometimes terrible “it’s not an easy job”.

 “The community should also realise that when cyclone or disaster warnings occur, we go home get our family ready; and then we go back to work to help other people be safe - so people need to think about that.”

After 33 of years policing, Rebecca chose to take an early retirement on January 7, 2018, to work at the Ministry of Internal Affairs where she is now based.

And still today women approach her in public to acknowledge their thanks for her valuable help when she was policing.

It’s not always glooms in the police force; Rebecca has good memorable experiences.

One of her career highlights was an overseas trip with the late prime minister Sir Thomas Davis KBE and Lady Pa Tepaeru Ariki.

Police officers would accompany the Prime Minister or the Queens Representative and their wives on official events abroad, a female officer was required to assist like a “lady in waiting”.

She was excited to be selected and travelled with police officer Tiki Matapo.

In Sydney an amazing huge vase of beautiful coloured orchids greeted them, “it was just so beautiful, Lady Pa and I were just so taken with these orchids.”

“She asked me to ‘taviri an ei - weave a head ei’, I had no string, no flowers - just those orchids in the hotel corridor.”

Improvising she rolled up the newspapers in the hotel room for the band, although she was frightened of being caught, she sneakily picked the orchids and wove a beautiful ei katu.

“And it matched her (Pa Ariki) gorgeous muumuu, it was so beautiful, the hotel staff complimented the ei, not knowing it was their flowers… it was hilarious; Tiki kept laughing and shaking his head, but I did it, I got it done.”

Rebecca travelled to Paris, London, Scotland for the 13th Commonwealth Games, to Israel where she stayed at the King David Hotel and was thrilled to see “Jerusalem - so beautiful, full of apple and orange orchards, it was so special to see, amazing.”

In 1991 she was sent to Manihiki to assist policemen Party Johnson and Boaza Kaina with the island’s election.

The elections then could be quite cruel, “it was not nice at all, people teasing each other, it was not good; but it’s better now.”

She then took on the job of police officer on Manihiki, living there for 12 years.

A deeply traumatic experience was 1997 Cyclone Martin – the most tragic natural disaster in the recorded history of the Cook Islands that devastatingly robbed 19 lives in Manihiki.

“I haven’t read the book ‘Matini’. We were given a copy from (author) Rachel Reeves, but to this day I can’t bring myself to read it, I open the cover and then I close it. It was devastating, unreal…”

Rebecca lived in Tukao, Manihiki. Rarotonga contacted her about the cyclone warning, she then called the Fisheries contact on Tauhunu to go and warn people.

Preparations were made, people were warned, clothes were packed.

On Saturday, a phone call from Rarotonga advised that the next weather chart read the cyclone was moving away towards Pukapuka.

“I could see the waves getting bigger, higher and rougher from where I was, I was disagreeing with the caller saying the sea was getting worse, then the call cut out… later we heard that was the time Tauhunu got it…”

Before the first wave hit Tukao, Rebecca returned to her home to get her children.

She was walking towards the building shelter with a child on each arm when she heard a Mama screaming at her to hurry.

“I turned around and saw the wave, as tall as a coconut tree. I picked up my kids (7-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter) one in each arm and I ran for my life, somehow you find the strength … it was terrifying.”

She got inside the building ran up into an attic like space with the others, the men were downstairs and the wave hit.

“Then you heard the screaming, some were dragged through the building by the sea surge, luckily there was a hedge at the back so some people got stuck in the hedge.

It was lucky it was still daylight, so we could still see.

One of Mataio Johnson’s Japanese technicians, had grabbed their Satellite (SAT). He kept asking for the Cook Islands code.

“I was still in shock and I couldn’t remember it. He called his family in Broome, Australia to call Rarotonga to call us.

Cook Islands police women. Back from left: Ruta Tane, Kurere Tuaputa, Inano Matapo, Teveka Taru. Front from left: Rebeca Ellis, Tupou Patia- Brogan, Mereana Hagai, Pauline Rangi, Jane Tuavera, Ana Teinangaro, Ngaeikura Taere, Gertrude Maretapu-Vaomotou. 21032615. PHOTOS Supplied by Rebecca Hosking-Ellis

“We sat and waited for the phone to ring, when it rang it was Chief Tini, when I heard his voice I just cried I couldn’t stop myself…”

After a brief they were asked to clear the runway so Air Rarotonga could land bringing medical personnel and supplies.

It was a Sunday, but the people worked together to clear the debris from the airstrip and fill in the holes, “the Mayor, konitara and all of us worked well together. We were hit but not as bad as Tauhunu…”

Rebecca returned to Rarotonga in 2003, for her kids to attend school.

In 2004, she and fellow officer Michael Akava worked in the Solomon Islands for the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) for nine months, both received commendations for their performance of duties there.

Rebecca is excited for the upcoming official celebration and revealed a book about Cook Islands Women in Police will be compiled with the help of her aunty Marjorie Crocombe.

“Crocombe has kindly agreed to help us put the book together, so we can all share our stories, and sales from the book will go back to help the retired police association.

“We have had amazing women work in the police and amazing women who support us.”

Rebecca also acknowledges Vaai Basnet and Cancy Maro the two female probationary constables who made history in August 2020 – the first women to join the crew of the police vessel Te Kukupa.

Juliana Pierre joined the Cook Islands Police in 1987 at the age of 21. She was the eighth woman to join policing.

She was motivated to take on the job simply because, “the job did not require sitting in an office eight hours a day, you were encouraged to use your initiative and the job wasn't predictable”.

Her duties included working on the frontline, issuing driver’s and firearm licences, court orderly functions trained by Kau Mapu and with CIB when a female officer was required on particular cases.

“When I joined, it was rare for women to come forward and file reports about an assault or domestic violence and to follow through. Women often withdrew their complaints believing the police would not have a positive impact to their situation,” says Pierre.

Mike Akava, RAMSI Commander Sandy Peasely, Rebecca Hosking-Ellis, former CIs Police Commissioner Maara Tetava. 21032639. PHOTOS Supplied by Rebecca Hosking-Ellis

Their (women) reasons at the time were because, “of feeling shamed for ‘letting the skeleton out of the closet’ or the negative feedback they had had to deal with.”

“So back then women did not see police as helpful to them in their specific traumatic circumstances,” says Pierre. 

“Seeing a change in response to that over time while I was serving was a highlight, amongst many others including meeting people from different walks of life.

Challenges were always present in policing but Pierre says they moved on by making the best decisions they could to overcome those circumstances.

“There’s always cause and effect, at the end of the day going home knowing you did the best you could with your recommendations regarding each case, was quite satisfying.”

Pierre worked in the police force for eight years, she resigned to move overseas.

Looking back, she absorbed valuable skills and has no regrets.

“I learnt to do my best in whatever I put my mind to, to have implicit confidence and faith, and build a rapport with people regardless of race, age or background.

“And attention to detail, these attributes and others are serving me well in my job here in New Zealand.”

Before Pierre joined the police service, Rebecca Hosking, Ruth Tane, Iva Poaru, Jane Tuavera, Florida Hosking and two other women, she can’t recall, were in the police service. Mereana Hagai, Kura Atirai and Patia Kapao enlisted during her time.

“I pass on my congratulations to all the former and current police women of the Cook Islands who have done and continue to do a job that serves the community. Meitaki.”

The Cook Islands Police Service will celebrate 50 years of women policing on Monday, March 29 (Monday) starting with a church service at the St Joseph’s Cathedral in the early morning.

A police parade will start at 8.30am at Police Headquarters, to be attended by Deputy Prime Minister Robert Tapaitau to mark the special occasion.

Dinner for invited guests will be held at the Edgewater Resort that evening.