A pair of women Hawaii Police Department Chief Paul Ferreira referred to as “outstanding officers” and “very special” were promoted to major Tuesday.
Majors Aimee Wana and Sherry Bird are only the second and third women to reach that rank in the history of the Hawaii Police Department — and the first two in this millennium. The department’s first, Maj. Cheryl Reis, retired in 1994.
And although March is Women’s History Month, Wana said Wednesday that she doesn’t see Bird’s and her promotions as “breaking the glass ceiling.”
“I just think of it as coming to work and doing the best job as you can every day,” Wana said. “Women bring different perspectives and a different color into individual situations.”
Bird echoed that she doesn’t think the promotions are due to “a female factor, although we are females.”
“I just see it as working hard and hoping you inspire others to do the same thing, because ultimately, we want to make our department as strong as it can be,” Bird said.
Ferreira said the promotions to a rank that amounts to senior management in the command structure has everything to do with their track record and nothing to do with gender.
“Their work ethic is beyond reproach,” he said. “You give them an assignment, they’ll jump on it, and they’ll do it with no questions asked. There’s no supervision that is needed. They’ll just give you the end product. And at that level, that’s what you expect from the commanders — and that’s what we get from them.”
Wana, who’ll celebrate 26 years in the department in April, remains in the Administrative Bureau in Hilo, where she was a captain. A Hilo native and Hilo High School alumna, she rose from the ranks as a Hilo patrol officer, Kona Juvenile Aid Section detective, sergeant and lieutenant in the police dispatch center and South Kohala patrol captain.
Bird, an alumna of Kailua High School on Oahu and U.S. Army veteran, has spent her entire 23-year career with the department in West Hawaii. She’s currently assigned to the Kona Field Operations Bureau. She started as a patrol officer in South Kohala and Kona, served in the Criminal Intelligence Unit, was a detective and lieutenant in Kona Vice Section, lieutenant in Kona Criminal Investigation Division and South Kohala patrol captain.
Wana said she’s seen the department make “tremendous strides in the recruitment of females.”
According to the department, women, with 37 uniformed officers, now comprise 8.6% of the positions. That’s up from 30 uniformed women officers, or 6.7% of the force, in 2017.
When the department’s most recent recruit class graduated last month, three of the 22 new officers, 13%, were women.
“When I got in in 1995, there were 18 women,” Wana said. “So, there’s a lot more women and a lot more women of rank, at least as of late. We have several detectives. … At one point, we had four female lieutenants. Traditionally, woman have not risen very high in the rank structure, but a lot of it has to do with other responsibilities, not necessarily an organizational thing.”
A married mother of four, Wana speaks from experience.
“This had been, traditionally, a male-dominated career path. And I think women have a role in this place,” she added.
According to Bird, whose sister, Sharlotte, is a detective in Kona Juvenile Aid Section, her eye has always been on a law enforcement career.
“It sounds cliché, but ever since I remember, I wanted to be a police officer,” she said. “Seeing police officers in action, I liked the uniform. I liked the sharpness, the professionalism, the interaction I got to see with those officers and those they were interacting with. And to myself, I thought, ‘I want to be one of them.’
“So for me, being accepted into this police department was a dream come true. … Every day I feel super lucky and humbled to be a part of this police department.”
Asked what they would like to be if they weren’t police officers, Bird replied, “ooh, good question,” but neither came up with an alternative to the careers they currently enjoy.
“I wouldn’t change any of it,” Wana said. “This is a very tough career, and you have to choose to be here.
“But we do things like the Merrie Monarch Parade, and you see little kids on the side and they’re, like, waving at you. I will take the time and go down and shake that little kid’s hand. Because, you know what? Somebody, somewhere, you don’t know who you’re encouraging. Maybe they see that, and they see you as a role model they can look up to.”
Bird said the biggest reward is “just being able to see the difference you’ve made in somebody’s life.”
“I’ve spent a large portion of my career in vice. I try to treat everybody with dignity, empathy and compassion, and that includes the arrestees,” she explained. “In vice, you encounter people who are going through not-so-good times. And in vice — even though we go out there and try to get the drugs off the street — as part of that, I want to help people that are in these situations.
“So in the last, maybe two years, I’ve been approached by at least three different people who I encountered back when I was in vice. And they just thanked me for, No. 1, arresting them. And you don’t hear that often. And No. 2, just giving them the time and constantly encouraging them to pursue the right path.
“I feel fulfilled when I hear messages like that.”
Email John Burnett at email@example.com.