Former old school traffic cop of 52 years dies after illness

A former blue-line stalwart who dedicated 52 years to road policing has died.

When senior constable Tony Young retired in 2018, he was understood to be New Zealand’s longest serving police officer.

He died on Tuesday following a brief battle with cancer. He was aged 72.

As a watchdog for New Zealand’s highways, Young worked in small, isolated communities such as Gisborne, Ruatōria and Eltham.

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He later moved to Bulls and finished his career at the Commercial Vehicle Safety headquarters at Ōhakea. He spent 18 years there.

When he started in 1967, all police officers had at their disposal was a wooden baton, a notebook, a set of handcuffs and a whistle.

Young at the Ōhakea commercial vehicle headquarters in 2018.

David Unwin/Stuff

Young at the Ōhakea commercial vehicle headquarters in 2018.

His death has been a blow to his former team at Ōhakea, who are seeking permission from his family to perform a guard of honour at his funeral in Palmerston North on Monday.

Senior Sergeant Aaron Bunker said Young was an old school cop who could forge relationships with anyone.

“He was a very level-headed individual, who had a lot of experience talking and dealing with people. He had this kind of telepathy.

“He’s done more service than I’ve been alive – 52 years is a lifetime.”

The Ōhakea team has been flooded with phone calls and emails from officers, both past and present, who worked with Young.

Young when he joined the police in January 1966.


Young when he joined the police in January 1966.

“Road policing was in the man’s blood. We don’t turn over our staff in [commercial road policing] often, so it’s quite heavy in our hearts.”

Speaking to Stuff before his retirement in 2018, Young said the greatest joy in his career came through helping people.

Assistance came first, enforcement second, such as when he helped a teenager who couldn’t read or write to sit his driver’s licence.

“I went into his house and I read the questions out. We sat down for a couple of hours and did the test that way.”

“Those are the things you remember, the people you helped.”

Young also expressed relief that as he left the job Kiwi motorists were taking more responsibility when it came to drinking and driving.

He recalled a sting in the 1980s, when he caught between 30 and 40 drunk drivers in one night in Whanganui.

“They’re not getting those numbers anymore.”

However, he still struggled to understand how the toll of human life lost on New Zealand’s roads could continually be so high, and that driver behaviours, such as impatience and inattention could be so entrenched.

“It’s as if being on the road is wasted time,” he said.

The same could certainly not be said for Young’s commitment to his colleagues and community.

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