Served from April 1, 1934 to August 18, 1945
John Burns’s role in the Honolulu Police Department’s (HPD) history went far beyond fighting crime in the streets. The highlight of his police career was his fight for civil rights.
John Anthony Burns joined the HPD during its early years when the department’s focus was on hiring better-educated personnel. After working in patrol and the Vice Division, Burns was handpicked by Chief William Gabrielson in December 1940 to head the department’s new Espionage Bureau. Burns was assigned to work with the Federal Bureau of Investigation to look into rumors of sabotage and disloyalty against the United States, primarily by people of Japanese ancestry. None of the reports were proven true.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Burns fought the wholesale internment of individuals based on their ethnicity. He also advised the local Japanese community on how they might serve the U.S. during wartime, including recruiting men to enlist in the 100th Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team.
Burns’s involvement with the Japanese community and the defense of their civil rights later helped to establish support for the Hawaii Democratic Party and his pursuit of public office.
Burns resigned from the HPD in 1945. He was elected as a territorial delegate to Congress in 1956 and served as Governor from 1962 to 1974.
Inducted on May 21, 2011