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Former police sergeant and now funeral director in training Greg Sutherland with the wrapped casket he chose for himself.

by Claire Allison

Greg Sutherland has traded his police uniform for a funeral director’s suit.

After 28 years in the police force, Mr Sutherland began training last month as a funeral director and embalmer with Aoraki Funeral Home.

Mr Sutherland said he always planned to retire from the police force early, and with his 50th birthday approaching, when the job offer came from Aoraki Funeral Home, he jumped at it.

“I’ve really enjoyed the policing career, but law enforcement is sometimes quite negative, focusing on the bad in people.”

Brought up on a dairy farm in Leeston, Mr Sutherland joined the police in 1990, spending two years in South Auckland before moving to Christchurch, and then, in 1997, to Twizel for six years and Tekapo for five.

He and wife Julie’s three children grew up in the Mackenzie country, and the location proved a bonus for Mr Sutherland’s interests in hunting, fishing, mountain biking and snowboarding.

Greg Sutherland in his former life as a police officer.

For the past 12 years, he has been stationed in Timaru, mostly as a frontline sergeant, although the time included a two-year stint as police prosecutor, and the past 18 months as the liquor licensing sergeant for Mid and South Canterbury.

He achieved notoriety as “the pizza cop”, after tricking an offender who had been ordering unwanted taxis and pizzas for a neighbour, into making contact with him, by saying he had won movie tickets.

The offender came clean and was convicted, but the conviction was overturned in the High Court.

Dealing with death is nothing new, and working with the families of the deceased was a part of the job Mr Sutherland always liked.

“Working in the Mackenzie, I dealt with so much death, farming accidents, car crashes, climbing accidents and plane crashes.

“Rural cops in general deal with so much more death than their city counterparts. On inquest court days, it’s chocker with rural cops, and hardly any town cops.”

Just over a month into his mid-life career change, Mr Sutherland is enjoying the change in direction.

“I’ve found the move really positive. Every day you’re learning on the job, as an embalmer and funeral director, from the basics upwards.”

The skills learned on the job in the police force have stood him in good stead.

“I’m surprised at how many skills that I had learned over the years have pretty much morphed into this. It just feels like I’ve shifted into a different office in the police station. It’s very similar work.”

Mr Sutherland said he was aware of other former police officers around New Zealand who had transitioned into a career in the funeral industry. “You’ve already dealt with quite a lot of death, so it doesn’t really faze you.”