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Southland police officer honoured for service

Sergeant John Harris, one of the longest-serving members of the New Zealand Police Armed Offenders Squad, has been made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit (MNZM) in the New Year Royal Honours list announced today (Monday, 31 December 2018).

A police officer since 1973, Sergeant Harris – known as AJ to many – is the officer in charge of Southland Area’s Alcohol Harm Prevention team and is also the officer in charge of Invercargill’s Armed Offenders Squad.

He became an AOS member in 1982 and has from 1993 headed the local AOS, and is one of the longest serving officers on AOS in the country.

Commissioner Mike Bush said it is great to see the fantastic service of Sergeant Harris to Police and particularly the Southland community, being recognised at the highest level.

“He’s an inspirational leader who is hugely respected within Police and by the many partner organisations he works with.

“His commitment to preventing harm in our communities is absolute, both in the most demanding of response roles with the AOS and through his dedicated service in the crucial field of alcohol harm prevention.”

Sergeant Harris says he was ‘blown away’ when he received the letter advising him of his award for service to Police and the community.

“It took some time register and get it through my noggin what it meant,” he says. “It’s a team effort and I’m just one of the team – whether it’s in alcohol harm prevention or AOS, I’m only as good as my team.

“I don’t think I’ve done more than many others to deserve this honour. It’s pretty humbling.”

Sergeant Harris has worked for police in Invercargill throughout his career, which has included general duties, Search and Rescue, Disaster Victim Identification, team policing and as a crime squad supervisor.

Search and Rescue helped equip him for AOS, he says. This team environment which along with his alcohol harm reduction work including overseeing Southland’s RAID (Reduce Alcohol Impaired Driving) Squad has been the focus for most of his career.

He’s been at the forefront of many alcohol harm prevention initiatives within the community and in partnership with members of the hospitality industry.

“AOS has been the highlight of my career but liquor licensing has been very kind to me. I’ve done a lot of presentations and workshops around New Zealand and met such a diverse range of people.”

As an AOS member he’s attended numerous challenging and often harrowing callouts, including the 1990 tragedy at Aramoana where Sergeant Stewart Guthrie was among 13 people killed by gunman David Gray.

Sergeant Harris, along with other recipients of New Year’s Honours, will be invested by the Governor General in special Government House ceremonies in 2019.


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