Classy crime fighter

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Newly-retired Queenstown detective sergeant Grahme Bartlett holds a unique reputation, according to New Zealand’s next top cop. 

While Bartlett’s methodical and diligent work during a long career in the criminal investigation branch is commendable, that reputation is “only surpassed by your fastidiousness in terms of your attire and personal presentation,” commissioner-designate Peter Marshall wrote in a personal note to him last month. 

“In that particular regard you have no equal within the NZ Police.” 

Bartlett says he learnt from the country’s best detectives that “first impressions are very important”. 

“I’ve always thought that when a police member meets a member of the public that dress standards and appearance are primary.” 

Since shifting to Queenstown in 2001 after 29 years in uniformed and non-uniformed roles in Auckland, Bartlett says: “I have taken a fair bit of flak from the Central Otago and rural community over my dress standards when I attend such things as cannabis recovery. 

“I do have a slightly amended wardrobe now.” 

Dress sense aside, Bartlett notched up two firsts in his days as an Auckland detective. After joining the CIB at only 20 – when most other detectives first did about 10 years in uniform – he was responsible for the first DNA hit in NZ. 

Bartlett investigated the rape of a housewife which couldn’t be pinned on either of two men who’d broken into her house. 

“We had heard of this new-wave technology called DNA so samples from that scene were taken to London and as a result there was a positive identification.” 

While on the robbery squad, he voiced his frustration to a superior that there were almost daily armed heists of banks, which he didn’t think were doing enough to protect their premises and staff. 

As a result, the Eagle police helicopter – half-funded by the banks – was launched to help capture fleeing robbers.
A highlight came in just 2009, when Bartlett worked with Canadian and Australian cops and his own troops to crack an international drug importing syndicate operating in Queenstown. All eight men arrested in Operation Wing are now serving lengthy prison sentences. 

Bartlett’s most tragic day in 38 years’ policing also occurred here – when detective Travis Hughes and his pilot Chris Scott died on a drug-spotting operation in Gibbston six years ago. 

“I was so overwhelmed that Travis’ family gave me the courtesy of coming to my farewell,” he says. 

Bartlett recalls he’d also organised another detective, John Hedges, to be on the flight but the computer technology took up too much space. 

The way Bartlett helped the Hughes family reflects his policy on treating victims. 

“I was always taught that the victims of crime and their families were pivotal, not just at the time but further down the track.” 

After viewing “some of the most horrendous homicide scenes, suicide scenes and fatalities, which the average member of the public never sees, and the aftermath which poor families and victims have to go through, I’m happy to leave this behind”. 

Bartlett, 57, says he’ll focus on other challenges like cycling in front of or behind this year’s Tour de France, maybe standing for council and possibly working in tourism. 

“For me, it’s almost like a huge responsibility off your shoulders,” he says.