The third degree

Phrases you don’t often hear: “I spent a pleasant evening being questioned by the police.”

But I did, last Wednesday. I volunteered to help out at the Police College (which is just up the road in Porirua) with a DVI course they were running. DVI = Disaster Victim Identification That’s what you do when you have lots of casualties/fatalities, and especially if the bodies are damaged or disfigured. The sorts of things that happens post fire/bombing/earthquake.

My job was to play a “next of kin” which the two officers got to question. They were working from a huge form which is used internationally (but not in the US, they have their own, of course).

Because it is an international form, NZ police has very little say in its 5-year periodic review. We had a number of criticisms of its content/design.

One topic that really got me was “race”. You get 3 choices: Caucasian, Mongoloid, or Negroid. It felt very 19th-century. And just how am I supposed to categorize a Maori? Or someone form India/South Asia? OR the ever-growing fraction of mixed-race people? Not very helpful.

Other questions were a fun investigation into your perception and memory. What is your spouse/partner/sweetie wearing today? EXACTLY. Colour, style, brand. Underwear. Socks. Shoes. Can you describe them all accurately enough to help identify the body? How about tattoos? Amazing how many people know their partner has one, but when asked to describe it has trouble remembering which arm it’s on, or what it looks like. It’s doubly-hard to precisely describe moles, scars, or other skin blemishes.

Part of the fun was that one of the two officers questioning me had a thick Texas accent- he married a Kiwi and moved down here a decade or so ago. But being questioned by a Texan-ex-marine-policeman? That makes it feel like a gritty crime drama. They just needed the single light bulb hanging above the table to finish the scene.


We did our yearly trip up to the Central Districts Field Days in Feilding on March 8th.

As often happens on that trip, we ended up picking up a hitch-hiker near Foxton. We was an interesting looking fellow, with his little pack, beard, and clothing that at-a-glance reminded me of the Amish.

One of the first things he said to us, in a thick accent, was “there are lots of police about because there was just an escape from the local prison. Always a great start to a ride.

Actually, he was a fascinating young man. He was from near Cologne, on a 3-year journey. He was a traditional craftsman, a joiner, who as part of the traditions of his trade had to spend 3 years travelling and working after completing his apprenticeship before he was allowed to return home. And those travels were to be done wearing the traditional garb of his trade (19th century-style, in his case).

He’d just finished 3 months in NZ travelling and working, and was hitching his way north towards Auckland to fly back to Europe and complete the last few months of his travels. A nice guy, but we could only get him about 30 km further forth before our paths diverged.