DPS promotes Hilo sergeant to fill new West Hawaii position overseeing Kona, Kohala courts

  • Thomas Dela Cruz was recently promoted from sergeant in the Department of Public Safety's Sheriff Division Hilo Section to lieutenant of the Kona Section. (Courtesy photo/Special to West Hawaii Today)

KAILUA-KONA — Deputy sheriffs assigned to West Hawaii’s courts now have a lieutenant based in Kona, although the legislator who helped create the position isn’t happy the post had to be filled by someone from Hilo.

Thomas Dela Cruz was promoted lieutenant in Kona and South Kohala effective Aug. 5. His most recent assignment was sergeant in the Sheriff Division’s Hilo Section and he joined the Department of Public Safety in 1997.

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“We are excited to have two lieutenants now serving Hawaii Island community,” said Toni Schwartz, Department of Public Safety spokeswoman.

The department did not provide any additional information regarding the selection of Dela Cruz, his career or qualifications, stating “the position was filled through the regular Civil Service internal competitive recruitment process.”

The addition of a lieutenant position to the island brings the number of lieutenants overseeing sheriffs operations on Hawaii Island to two. Dela Cruz will oversee the 17 positions in the Sheriff Division Kona Section while the 20 positions in the Hilo Section will be under the direction of Lt. Patrick K. Kawai.

The Kona and Hilo sections together are responsible for all courthouses in Hilo, Waimea and Kona. Kawai previously oversaw both units from his Hilo office, but will now be exclusively over the Hilo operations, Schwartz said.

“A second lieutenant for the Kona unit will allow for more effective and efficient supervision of the line deputies and enhance the capacity to provide the necessary services to the Judiciary and the Hawaii Island community,” said Schwartz.

Until early September, when Kona’s District, Family, Circuit and Drug courts move operations into a centralized location at the new Keahuolu Courthouse in North Kona, the Kona Section’s sheriff deputies remain responsible for general law enforcement at four different courts in three different physical locations in North and South Kona. That’s in addition to South Kohala District Court in Waimea.

Dela Cruz, interviewed Wednesday outside the Keakealani Building where two of those courts are currently located, said he is looking forward to the move to the new facility off Kamakaeha Avenue as well as providing leadership for the deputies in Kona.

Having played a role in the transition from operations at multiple courthouses in East Hawaii to the three-story, 175,000-square-foot Hale Kaulike building in 2009, he said he knows a thing or two about the process.

“I have a lot of experience over there that I’m going to bring here,” said Dela Cruz who previously worked in Kona about two decades ago.

Funding for the lieutenant position came via the 2018 state budget that included $85,670 to established the permanent position. Senators added the position to the executive budget during conference after a bill introduced by state Sen. Lorraine Inouye, D-North Hawaii, died late in the legislative process.

The bill was supported by Nolan P. Espinda, Department of Public Safety director, who noted during March 2018 that “a second lieutenant for the Kona unit will allow for more effective and efficient supervision of the line deputies and enhance the capacity of the Sheriff Division to provide the necessary services to the Judiciary and the Hawaii Island community.”

However, Kawai, the then-lone sheriff lieutenant on the island, did not share the same view. In noting that a second lieutenant on the island would be “redundant” and “fiscally irresponsible,” Kawai said a sergeant position would be more appropriate.

Schwartz said the department was thankful for Inouye’s push for the funding for the new position.

“We are grateful for her willingness to support the Sheriff Division and the Hawaii Island constituency,” she said.

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However, the Big Island legislator whose measure ultimately led to the funding of the position is questioning why the person promoted to lieutenant overseeing Kona and Kohala courts hails from East Hawaii.

“I am not happy that we end up bringing a person from Hilo. Don’t tell me that there are not capable people from the Kona region,” she said Tuesday.

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