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Saturday 10 October 2009


Andy King's passion for investigation

Posted in: Community, HIV
By Jay Bennie - 1st June 2009

andyking_1.jpg
Detective Sergeant Andy King
Detective Sergeant Andy King stands still for a photograph, looking just like a UK TV series cop. Steely eyes, impassive expression, upright squared posture, regulation-length hair, the whole stony-faced 'Easter Island' works.

Then, a fraction of a second after he thinks the ordeal is over, he moves and the change is remarkable. Now he’s an ordinary bloke with a concerned expression, a twinkle in those still steely eyes, slight of build and with a tendency to avoid your eyes when broaching a subject which troubles him. When pressed, he describes himself as "friendly, outgoing, a mix of extrovert and introvert."

King, 43, is the head of Auckland’s Adult Sexual Assault Team and currently the first point of contact for gay men who think they might have been in contact with the just-arrested man still only known as the alleged ‘HIV predator.’ In fact the team was built up around King and he seems a good choice for the role. The first young gay man to lay a formal complaint and get the ball rolling in the 'predator' investigation says he was relieved to find King “
approachable, sympathetic and a good guy."


AN IDYLLIC UPBRINGING

Andy King was raised in Pukekohe, in rural South Auckland. "My father was a Scots immigrant in the 1950s, my mother was a teacher at Auckland University. They married in their mid-20s." He's the youngest of three children, with a brother who's also a policeman and a sister who's a nurse.

He had what he describes as an idyllic upbringing. “I was brought up on a small farm near Pukekohe, and experienced all the good stuff that's associated with that. My mum and dad were in a very happy, stable relationship, and yeah, it was idyllic. Lots of land to roam on, tree houses, hay making, country school, all that sort of stuff. It was nice.”

He laughs when cornered into admitting that at school he was a very average student. “I didn’t enjoy school that much. I guess I struggled with authority, which sounds pretty strange for a policeman to say! And I'd probably be termed 'lazy' as far as schoolwork was concerned. At secondary school I did enough to get by... I guess that’s the best way of terming it. But since I've left school I've done a reasonable amount of study. I don't actually mind studying any more when it's about something I actually enjoy doing.

King is a fit man, something he may be passing onto his children. Taking a late afternoon phone call from GayNZ.com early in the ‘predator’ case he apologised for the background noise while trying to coax his kids out of a swimming pool. “I used to play quite a lot of soccer. I play golf now… but I'm not a good golfer, I'm very much in the hacker category. I carry a handicap of about 22, but it's a very good way of relaxing from the stresses of my work. It's one of those sports which takes your mind well away from anything else." He’s also embraced swimming and triathlon more recently.


And he’s a reader. “I'm into fiction, usually thrillers, or history non-fiction as in a lot of police-related stuff. At the moment I'm reading a novelized version of the story of Charles Darwin.”


A PASSION FOR INVESTIGATION

King’s first attempt to join the thin blue line was unsuccessful, leaving him to join up later in life than most police officers. “At age 19 I was turned down because I was short-sighted. And probably in hindsight that was a good thing because I was far too immature then. I went away and worked for a while, went overseas, did some study, and came back in my late 20s and was still very keen to join up. I eventually had laser surgery on my eyes to get myself into the police.”

He was newly married when he eventually joined up. “All my family were very supportive, and still are to this day. My older brother was already in the police so they had a fair understanding of what it was about.”

Why did he want to be a policeman? “That's hard to define. I think I've always been attracted to serious criminal investigations, so being a detective was something I always had in the back of my mind. Even when I was very very young, even to the extent of reading lots of Sherlock Holmes and that sort of thing. Criminal investigation has been a passion for a very long time in my life, and I think that is probably the main leader for it."

King almost apologises for being altruistic, “but I do enjoy serving the public and helping people, so this is an ideal job for that. It sounds altruistic in this day and age, but it is one of the motivators for me.” It's hard to avoid the impression of King as a slightly old-fashioned guy, though not in the crusty or conservative sense.


EMPATHY NEEDED "IN SPADES"

In his job he has to be able to get alongside people who have experiences of intimate and sometimes horrific abuse. “Empathy is a massive thing,” he says, “and I think it's also something you pick up as you go along in your career, especially as you gain an understanding of what makes people tick. Something of an understanding of a shared trauma of terrible things that some people go through. And that empathy is something you become more aware of as you go on. You definitely need it in spades for this job.”

He admits that balancing the empathy needed to work with a victim with the incisiveness needed to progress a case can be tricky. “It is a difficult path sometimes. We're dealing with men and women who sometimes are under severe recent trauma. In a case like that we have to at least initially get some detail as to what has happened to them, so that we can actually commence an investigation. We tend to only get broad detail, enough information so that we can for example close down a scene for a forensic examination... to know what's happened to them so we can talk with a doctor who may be examining them for forensic evidence, and then we can effectively hand over to a counseling service, and I'm talking more in terms of sexual assault terms here. And then come back to them in two or three days or even longer, and get a real, defined statement where we go into the detail of what has occurred."

Surprisingly, he enjoys his work. "It's an area of investigation that I've always enjoyed. That sounds a bizarre way of terming it but I've been a detective for ten years, and I've been in the police 14 years. And for the majority of that time, sexual assault investigation was carried out by general detectives in general-type squads. I enjoyed the aspect of dealing with victims who were obviously incredibly traumatized by that. I enjoy the historic nature of a lot of the sexual assault work, when we're dealing with circumstances that happened, sometimes 10, 15, 40-odd years ago, and digging into the past, trying to find evidence that is quite difficult to locate sometimes. And I enjoy the fact that the work actually does visibly help victims of sexual assault, and that is a very big thing for me."


"A SPECIAL TOUCH"

In July 2006, at the time of the commission of enquiry surrounding Louise Nicholas and Clint Rickards, King was asked to set up what has become the Adult Sexual Assault Team. “It was a new initiative and my bosses, in their wisdom I believe, decided that they would take the bull by the horns and form a specialist squad to deal with this area. I was lucky enough to be asked to set up and run the squad and I now have eight detectives working for me, four women and four men. We deal with between 175 and 200 serious sexual assault complaints per year. We're dealing with rapes, sexual violations. A lot of the more minor stuff, the bottom pinchers, the breast grabbers etc., are dealt with in some of our station offices."

King believes it takes a special kind of person to work on his team. “It is a difficult area of investigation and it's an area that a lot of officers don't enjoy. It is very personal to people. It's difficult for people to talk about their sexual activity, it's difficult for them to let us know has happened to them, even under an assault situation. It does require a special 'touch', for want of a better word, to allow the police to get that close to them. We're dealing with offences where often there are only two witnesses - the offender and the victim. We always get differing stories from each of those, and they almost always see things from a totally different perspective, which is where consent comes in, which is obviously a defence that is utilised in the majority of sexual assault cases, where the victim will say they were assaulted, and the offender will say it was consensual."


THE BALANCE OF POWER

Consent may not be what it seems if one person’s power over another is an issue. “That’s a frequent occurrence. Often we're dealing with victims, either male or female, who are a lot younger than the offender, and that imbalance of age can bring its own issues, where the younger victim feels obliged almost to provide the sexual services wanted of them by the older offender, and don't feel they're in a position to be able to argue or say no, and that in effect is not consent in the eyes of the law and the police, and it can be charged."

King agrees that many sexual assaults are based on someone wielding power deliberately. “Indeed. Sexual assault can be about sex obviously, but a lot of the time it can be about the abuse of power. Again, talking about age differences, or people in positions of authority. All sorts of scenarios play out, and it really is quite a common occurrence, I guess, in all sexual assault from all different types of people."


CONCERN FOR THE YOUNG
 

The young are, he feels, particularly at risk. “A lot of sexual assault we deal with is dealing with vulnerable people, and that can be people who are young, people who have got mental problems, people who are impaired by alcohol or drugs… and all of these things can lay them open to sexual assault. Young people are a particular problem. For instance, a young man who's possibly unsure about his sexuality is very vulnerable to older people, especially older males who maybe have been aware of their homosexuality for quite some time. Obviously it transpires across the sexes as well - young women can be equally vulnerable to attack by an older male or an older woman for exactly the same reasons."

King understands the extra stresses nascent homosexuality can place on young people. “With young gay males, or young males who are unsure about their sexuality, or just coming out, the timing can be very difficult for them when perhaps their peers and their loved ones aren't aware of their sexuality. There can be a lack of knowledge in the area, lack of understanding of where they're going with their lives. So it does give a predator some opportunity if they are able to see that vulnerability in those sort of people."


COPING WITH THE WORK

Dealing with this difficult side of life draws King’s team together, he says. “We have a very close-knit team, and part of the reason for that is the very nature of the work we deal with. It's an area where we do have our eyes opened. Just when you think you've heard it all, something new comes along and makes you realize that you haven't quite heard it all yet. We deal with it by talking to each other about what we're dealing with. I guess as a coping mechanism in itself Sometimes, yes, there is some black humour, but not at anybody's expense. But sometimes have to laugh, its a protection mechanism."

King’s team is required to undergo psychological counseling on a regular basis “every three to six months - but I believe within myself that there is more benefit in actually talking within the squad and dealing with it within our group. I think all of the people that work on this squad are good investigators, and they're selected as being experienced and able in the area of sexual assault investigation, and it's something that they want to do, it's not something that they are forced into or told they have to do. That's very important."


GETTING PAST THE FEAR

Asked if he understands some people’s reticence at fronting up to the police about such deeply personal matters, King says he does. “I think there's a number of barriers, but probably the biggest one is fear of the police, quite honestly. Maybe not fear… fear's slightly incorrect. More an insecurity or unsureness of what it will mean to come forward to the police. They sometimes wonder whether if they come to the police they'll be forced to make a compliant. And there’s a lack of knowledge as to what the processes are surrounding making a complaint to the police and what that may lead to further down the track, whether it may lead to a court appearance, etc."

King says sometimes people’s understanding of their situation, or what happened to them, can be uncertain. "One of my biggest jobs running this squad is to talk to people who are really unsure what has happened to them. They know within themselves that what has happened to them is wrong, is probably against the law, yet they're sometimes a little scared of coming forward because they think they're going to be bothering us when we've got better things to do with our time. So one of my jobs is to reassure people that that is not actually the case. I spend a lot of my time talking to people who are looking at making a complaint and advising them on the various options they have open to them from a police aspect, and really informing them so they can make an informed decision as to what they want to do.

"[We] are not in the business of ever making anyone make a complaint," he says. "The decision to make that complaint will always be the victim's alone. But what [we] do is make sure they can make an informed decision as to whether that's the path they want to take. And that's a very important thing. It's not an easy process to make a complaint to the police and then potentially have that go right through a court process, but the way that we deal with it we can make that ride as simple and easy as professional as we possibly can."

Touching on the current 'HIV predator' case, which is still under investigation and already before the court so cannot be discussed in any great detail, King and his team are still looking to hear from people who may have information regarding the 40 year old man whose name is suppressed for the next couple of weeks. "I can absolutely assure your readers that if they do decide to talk to the police they'll be treated professionally, courteously, and with respect. And that goes right across the board, for all types of people in society."


A DAD'S ADVICE

King’s own children are aged 8 and 10. In a few years there'll be 'that' little chat. How will the man who, more than most, sees the downside of some sexual liaisons advise his own children? "That's a big question. One of the most obvious things is: take care. Protection is absolutely necessary whether we're talking about gay sex or straight sex, or any other derivative. Protection with a condom is all-important. I can’t emphasize that enough.

"Teenagers are going to experiment and I think parents have to accept that, and give them advice on what it is to be in a sexual relationship and what love is about, so that they are informed when they're going into relationships so they know what they're doing with their bodies."


Detective Sergeant Andy King can be contacted on (09) 302 6611.

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Jay Bennie - 1st June 2009