KAILUA-KONA — Think you got what it takes to wear the badge and blue?
With 49 police officer vacancies as of Tuesday and several more anticipated to crop up in the coming months as veteran officers retire, the Hawaii Police Department is actively recruiting for new police officers to serve in all Big Island communities.
The effort to secure 47 new entry-level officers to join the 76-year-old department commences at midnight Sunday. The department currently has 434 sworn positions serving the island’s 200,000 residents, plus visitors, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
“It is a good career and it does require a commitment,” said HPD Administrative Services Major Robert Wagner, who joined the department in 1986. “At times it’s very routine in the things that you do, but at times it is very rewarding with the things you were able to do and the difference you can make.”
Starting pay for a Hawaii County police officer I is $5,364 per month, or $64,368 annually. That’s higher than island’s median household income of $56,395, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The median income in Kailua-Kona is about $66,875.
That’s bolstered by a healthy benefits package that includes holiday pay; vacation pay; leave for illness, military, funeral or accidental injury; health and life insurance; and retirement. Uniforms and equipment and a monthly subsidy for use of the officer’s vehicle are also part of the package.
Men and women, alike, are encouraged to apply whether they’re from the Big Island, another island or the mainland, as are applicants who may not have succeeded the first time around. Applicants must be at least 20 years old to apply, and be at least 21 years of age upon graduation from the Police Academy.
Applications, which must be submitted no later than 11:59 p.m. Hawaii time on Tuesday, Nov. 12, can be found online at www.hawaiicounty.gov.
The department is targeting to start the 92nd Recruit Class in February.
Qualified applicants must have graduated from high school or obtained a GED; possess a valid driver’s license; knowledge of grammar, spelling and word usage; be qualified to carry/possess firearms or ammunition in accordance with state and federal laws and have no felony or domestic-violence convictions. In addition, they must meet county health and physical condition standards, such as having good eyesight and agility.
“For us, the challenge is finding that applicant that is qualified and able to perform the duties of a police officer,” said Sgt. Jason Grouns, who started his career with HPD 20 years ago. “Some people are simply applying to find a job and may not be cut out for it. And, unfortunately, it takes them getting into class and seeing what it entails to do the job and find out.”
He suggested applicants really think about the job before applying, including the risks and rewards. Last year, Hawaii Police Department Officer Bronson Kaliloa was killed in the line-of-duty, along with 105 other law enforcement officers across the nation. There was also the Kilauea Volcano eruption, among other incidents.
“Applying for a police officer they’re going to work in a high-pace environment things can switch gears in an instant,” said Grouns, noting a candidate must also be a good communicator. “A lot of people apply and think it’s all about writing tickets and making arrests, but it’s a lot more.”
Once applied, interested parties must take a written exam, which is administered in both Hilo and Kona. Upon passage of the written exam, an applicant is given a date to complete an agility test, which essentially is a 70-second obstacle course.
“Those that pass the agility course will come to the station that day and we’ll start our process,” said Grouns. That process includes filling out an application, being interviewed and passing various checks, such as a background check. It can take about six months, but a person can keep working at their current job.
“Once you make it through all of that stuff, then we will give them the two week notice to tell their employer,” he said.
That’s when he or she officially becomes a member of the Hawaii Police Department.
“It is a commitment, but you start getting paid,” said Grouns. “From day one of recruit class you’re hired on as police officer I, and you get paid from day one.”
Though the department’s Police Academy is held in Hilo, Grouns said applications come in from prospective officers in both East and West Hawaii. Having the Daniel K. Inouye Highway, instead of the old Saddle Road, also makes the trek easier.
“It’s a 50-50 mix of East and West Hawaii,” he said. “Some applicants will meet up with each other during the process and they’ll find a place over on this side and become roommates so they don’t have to drive every day.”
Following six months of in-class training, recruits head out for four months of field training on the road with a veteran Hawaii Police Department officer. Once that time is under the belt, officers are assigned to a district and hit the road to enforce the law.
“We fill where the vacancies are, where we need the manpower,” said Grouns. “We do have our brand new officers fill out a ‘dream sheet’ of where they would prefer to work. Unfortunately, nobody automatically gets sent back to the district where they’re from, but we’ll try to accommodate them.”
Though there may be 49 vacancies, and more to come, the department continues to provide high-quality police service.
“As a department, we look at the needs of the community and address those needs with the resources available. We look at problem areas, areas with high call numbers for service, and we allocate personnel accordingly,” said Wagner. “And yes, with more officers, we can do more as well.”