First Tongan police chief in Hawaii retires after 36 years

WAILUKU, Maui — The first Tongan police chief in the state of Hawaii and first Tongan police officer with the Maui Police Department has retired from the department after 36 years, officials said.

Maui Police Chief Tivoli Faaumu, who is also part Samoan, grew up in Tonga and joined the department in August 1985, The Maui News reported Saturday. He served as police chief for seven years.

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“He’s fulfilled everything we asked him to do, plus much more,” said Roger Dixon, who was chairman of the Maui Police Commission that unanimously selected Faaumu as chief in 2014. “The chief has made solid appointments in the department and is leaving a stronger, and more responsive police department.”

Faaumu, who left Tonga at the age of 17, received his associate’s degree in administration of justice from then-Maui Community College, a bachelor’s degree in business management from Bellevue University and a master’s degree in homeland security from American Military University.

“When I first came in, I was the only one with an accent,” he said. “Now you have different accents, which is good because the diversity of the department does match the community as a whole. It really helps us provide that service.”

While a police officer, Faaumu assisted the FBI in shutting down a major drug distribution ring in 2001 that was responsible for up to 70% of the methamphetamines being sold on Maui at the time. He was able to translate wiretapped phone calls between many of the drug traffickers who spoke Tongan.

Faaumu also implemented the use of body-worn cameras for police officers in 2017, while police chief. He said the use of the cameras has reduced the number of complaints about officers by up to 80%.

“As far as the return on our investment, it’s very, very successful,” Faaumu said, noting that there were no public complaints about officers’ conduct in March.

Deputy Chief Dean Rickard, who worked with Faaumu when they were Lahaina patrol officers in the late 1980s, said one of Faaumu’s strengths in leading Maui Police Department was “his eagerness to engage in open and honest communications with department personnel, government leaders and members of our community.”

Faaumu had planned to retire in July 2020 before Maui Mayor Michael Victorino asked the chief to stay during the coronavirus pandemic, which required police to adapt to new rules and procedures.

“As a police officer, as a commander and as your chief, he’s shown the willingness to listen, to bring transparency to the Maui Police Department, to make it more public oriented and highly functional as a public agency,” Victorino said Friday during the chief’s retirement ceremony.

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Faaumu said “the chief is not supposed to have emotions, he’s supposed to get it together and drive on. But I think after 35 years, incredible years, and then six and a half years as your chief, I’m eternally grateful for the law enforcement career I have, especially having the opportunity to serve as your chief.”

Faaumu and his wife, Deborah, will continue living in Maui but said they plan to spend time in Arizona with his in-laws. Rickard will serve as acting chief.

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