Acting police chief gets Big Island job
By Christie Wilson
Advertiser Neighbor Island Editor
A highly public selection process ended yesterday when the Hawai'i County Police Commission named Lawrence Mahuna as the Big Island's new police chief.
Hawai'i County Police
Lawrence Mahuna, 52, is the Big Island's new police chief.
Hawai'i County Police
He was one of four finalists, all employed by the department. Although there was interest in the job from elsewhere in the state, out-of-state candidates were disqualified because of residency requirements.
The commission voted 7-1 for Mahuna, with member Walter Moe preferring Maj. Charles Chai. The other candidates were detective Moses Kaoiwi and Capt. Sam Thomas, who both work in the Internal Affairs and Intelligence Unit.
For the second year in a row, the police commission held public hearings on the finalists, although some commission discussions took place in closed-door sessions, which are allowed when taking up personnel matters.
Candidates were asked to sign a waiver allowing the commission to disclose their names. The finalists appeared at public hearings to talk about how they would run the department and to field questions from the audience. Community members and police officers also were able to provide testimony to the commission in public or private.
The commission improved on the process this year, said Chairman Wilfred Okabe, by holding hearings in the evening in Kona and Hilo instead of during the day when most people work.
Okabe said the public input is helpful in the decision process and gives the panel a chance to observe the finalists interacting with citizens. Okabe said the commission is following Mayor Harry Kim's policy of government openness. "We wanted to have open hearings so that the public would be able to know who the candidates are, and getting input from the public or police officers gives us more insight into the candidates," he said.
The Hawai'i County Fire Department adopted a similar process in picking a new chief earlier this year.
Mahuna's extensive administrative experience, collaborative management style and communications skills gave him the edge, Okabe said.
"In the absence of Correa, he did a very good job commanding. The improvement in morale was a factor," he said. "His communication skills are excellent and that will enable him to listen to the community."
Okabe, a Hilo High School physical education teacher who has served on the commission for five years, said he feels the police department may be turning a corner after its reputation was tarnished in recent years by scandals over rigged promotions, police officers involved in domestic abuse, and other problems.
"All the candidates and community members talked very positively; it wasn't negative," he said. "I have a sense that because it was positive and because we had four outstanding candidates, it shows that the Hawai'i County Police Department is more collaborative."
Mahuna was not available for comment. He is the Big Island's 11th police chief and oversees a staff of 607 and a $35 million budget. A recent salary increase raised the chief's annual pay to $91,599.
Mahuna is a graduate of Kamehameha Schools and earned a bachelor's degree in psychology from Washington State University.
During his police career, he also served as a detective in the Vice and Criminal Investigation sections, a captain in command of the North Kohala and South Kohala patrol districts, and a major in charge of the Technical Services Division in the Administrative Bureau. He was promoted to assistant chief in December 1998.