The HPD is a large, modern law enforcement agency with many unique features that sets it apart from its counterparts in the U.S. and around the world.
Start with the “Introduction” and continue to “HPD in the ‘90s” for a brief look at our past. This section also features the history of our badge and information about past chiefs of police. We honor our officers that paid the ultimate sacrifice in our Roll of Honor. .
The HPD celebrated its 85th anniversary in 2017.
From our roots in Hawaiian culture to our modern equipment and personnel, the HPD is like no other police department in the nation.
There is no state police in Hawaii. Each of the four counties in the state is responsible for its own police force. The City and County of Honolulu has the largest population in the state and is located on the island of Oahu.
Hawaii is the only state in the Union that has a royal palace on its soil. Prior to becoming a state and territory of the United States, the Hawaiian Government was a Constitutional Monarchy. The HPD history can be traced to an Act to Organize the Executive Departments of the Government approved by King Kamehameha the Third in 1846.
The sections below will provide information about the background and history of law enforcement in Honolulu. This web version is based on “The Legacy of Kapu Kanawai 1750-2000”, initially edited by then Captain Barbara Uphouse Wong and Daryl Jean Aiwohi in the early 1990s. It was adapted for the web by (now retired Major) Aaron Correia in the late 1990s. Additional information was provided by Pat Oda.
Law Enforcement in Pre-Contact Hawaii
Ancient Hawaii, or pre-contact Hawaii, is usually referred to as the time period prior to 1778 when Captain James Cook “discovered” the Hawaiian Islands. Each island was ruled by a chief who was considered a god. At birth, these chiefs were given the authority to proclaim the law.
Law enforcement in pre-contact-Hawaii is commonly called the kapu system. The idea of kapu was a way of governing based on tradition. There were different kapu for different infractions. The most serious were laws of the gods, or kapu akua, and laws of the chief, or kapu ali’i.
The task of bringing criminals to justice was the duty of the ‘ilamuku whose office was hereditary. Those who broke the kapu akua and kapu ali’i were bound with rope and taken to the chief for adjudication. Justice was swift. Infractions of the kapu akua were capital crimes and the chief made the decision between life and death. Violations of kapu ali’i were dealt with less severely.
However formidable the kapu akua, it also provided for pardon, clemency, absolution, and mercy. This was known as pu’uhonua or ‘refuge’ from capital punishment.
In 1782, prior to the unification of the Hawaiian Islands, the great chief Kamehameha I had a personal experience which resulted in the enactment of one of the most well-known of all his laws. Kamehameha I had set out in a canoe to raid the coast of Puna on the Big Island of Hawaii. He came upon two fishermen who were subjects of his enemy. Upon seeing the chief, they fled. Kamehameha pursued them across a lava field when his foot got caught in a crevice and he was unable to free himself. Upon seeing Kamehameha’s predicament the two men returned and attacked him, using their canoe paddles as weapons. The attack was so brutal that one of the paddles splintered when Kamehameha was struck on the head. He was left for dead but Kamehameha later recovered from the attack. After uniting the islands he recalled the incident and commemorated it in one of his best known edicts, Mamalahoe Kanawai which meant Law of the Splintered Paddle.
E nā kānaka,
E mālama ‘oukou i ke akua
A e mālama ho‘i ke kanaka nui a me kanaka iki;
E hele ka ‘elemakule, ka luahine, a me ke kama
A moe i ke ala
‘A‘ohe mea nāna e ho‘opilikia.
Hewa nō, make.
Law of the Splintered Paddle:
O my people,
Honor thy god;
respect alike [the rights of] men great and humble;
See to it that our aged, our women, and our children
Lie down to sleep by the roadside
Without fear of harm.
Disobey, and die.
(Note that the translation is not direct- the law has been interpreted into the present English form.)
Kamehameha II (Liholiho) is credited with overthrowing the kapu system in 1819. The king sat down to eat with his chiefesses in public and abolished the kapu ‘ai. The highest ranking priest at the time, Hewahewa, renounced his office. Kamehameha II then decreed that all the temples should be abolished throughout the kingdom. Across the entire island chain the priests followed the command and by this single act many kapus were abolished. The overthrow of the kapu system was not only the ending of the ‘ai kapu law but a complete overthrow of the entire power of the office of the priesthood and a liberation of the whole society from the binding force of the kapu akua and the kapu kino of the gods. There exists no other society in the history of the world in which the kings ended their own divine right to power.
The Roots of the Honolulu Police Department
In 1840 a supreme court was formed in Hawaii and King Kamehameha III established the Hawaiian nation’s first constitution.
On April 27, 1846 an Act to Organize the Executive Departments of the Government was was given final approval by King Kamehameha III. This Act established various Executive Judicial Officers.
The highest ranking officer was the Marshal of the Kingdom whose primary responsibilities were to nominate the Sheriffs and then to instruct, supervise and control them in the performance of their duties. The Act specified that the marshal shall recommend a sheriff for each of the islands of Oahu, Hawaii, Maui, and Kauai and that the governors of each island would approve and appoint these sheriffs. These sheriffs would have supervisory control and direction of the constables appointed for their respective islands.
As of January, 1847, the Police Force consisted of two officers and thirty-four men. Their distinguishing marks were an insignia consisting of a scarlet crown bearing the initials “K.III” which they wore on the arm and a red band on their caps.
In 1893, the Kingdom of Hawaii was overthrown and replaced by the Provisional Government of Hawaii. In 1894, the newly proclaimed Republic of Hawaii formed its own police system.
After a few years under the governance of the Territory of Hawaii, four county governments were established out of the original administrative regions of the monarchy. In 1905, each county established a police department led by an elected sheriff.
|The Sheriff of Honolulu were: A.M. Brown 1905-1906 Curtis P. Iaukea 1907-1909 William P. Jarrett 1910-1914 Charles G. Rose 1915-1923 David K. Trask 1924-1926 David L. Desha 1927|
The octagon-shaped police badge used in the 1880’s through the 1920’s was similar in appearance to those of other police departments of that period. In the 1920’s the badge was redesigned with an eagle on top.
The Beginnings of the Modern Honolulu Police Department
In the late 1920’s and early 1930’s crime was on the rise in Honolulu. The handling of several high-profile cases including the Jamieson kidnaping-murder and Massie rape case widened the gap between locals and foreigners. Due to increased pressure from a group of prominent women in the community Governor Lawrence M. Judd appointed a Governor’s Advisory Committee on Crime. This committee recommended that “there should be a police commission appointed by the Mayor of the City and County of Honolulu, with the approval of the Board of Supervisors, whose duty it would be to appoint a Chief of Police and to supervise the operating of the police department” and that “the office of the Sheriff be retained and that the Sheriff be charged with the duty of serving civil process, maintaining the Honolulu Jail, and to act as Coroner.”
In 1931 the Honolulu Police Department’s police station was located at corner of Bethel Street and Merchant Street.
Governor Judd convened a Special Session of the Legislature and on January 22, 1932, it passed Act 1, carrying out the recommendations by the Governor’s Advisory Committee on Crime. Act 1 established the Honolulu Police Commission and provided for an appointed Chief of Police. The Commission immediately appointed businessman Charles F. Weeber to be the first Chief of Police.
In February 1932, the Honolulu Police Department acquired a RCA shortwave radio transmitter. This soon established itself as one of the Department’s most important tools.
On August 12, 1932, Chief Weber resigned as Chief and replaced George Ii Brown on the Commission. On the same date William Gabrielson was appointed Chief of Police. Gabrielson came from the Berkeley Police Department in California. In that time period police officers wore seven point star badges. Starting in 1932 the Honolulu Police Department’s 7 point star was known as the “Berkeley Star”. In the late 1940’s a new design for our badge was created but it wasn’t introduced until 1952.
The War Years 1941 – 1950
During this period the principal concern of the Police Commission and Department administrators was personnel resources. Many of the Department’s younger officers had been called into the military service joining their brother officers who had volunteered. There was a possibility that others would be called, or would volunteer, and replacements were not in great quantity.
In July of 1941, the Commission authorized the Chief of Police to train “volunteers” to be trained in the fundamentals of police work if they were qualified. Douglas G. King was given the rank of Assistant Chief in charge of what was to be called the Honolulu Police Reserves. He was an unpaid volunteer. Notable among the members of the first group of reserve officers was R. Alex Anderson, a noted musician and composer of hapa haole songs.
On December 7, 1941, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Governor Joseph B. Poindexter signed a proclamation by which he turned the Territory of Hawaii over to the military. The Territory was immediately declaired to be under martial law. The Honolulu Police Department became a deputized military force. The word “Emergency” was etched above the “Honolulu” on the seven-point star badges of police officers. Police officers had to make adjustments to this strange new way of policing and they found themselves enforcing a completely new code known as the Orders of the Military Governor. Criminal trials were conducted by a military judge an Provost Court.
The San Jose State Spartans football team served with the Honolulu Police Department for the duration of the war. The team had played a game against the University of Hawaii Warriors but were stranded in Hawaii after the Pearl Harbor attack. The players volunteered for police duty to enforce blackout regulations and to help guard the city’s waterworks. Some of the players remained in Hawaii and enlisted in the military.
Honolulu experienced a phenomenal growth in population during the latter part of 1941 and during 1942 due to the increases in the strength of the armed forces. Despite an almost doubled population there was a decrease in criminal offenses. The significant reduction in crime was attributed to the operation of the Provost Court, blackout regulations, early curfew, and other restrictions of movements and activities of the general public. Nearly every employable person was working, and many worked a considerable amount of overtime.
During the mid 1940’s the Police Commission requested the assistance of the Public Prosecutor of Honolulu and the Attorney General of the Territory in conducting a gambling payoff investigation. There were a series of suspensions, including that of a captain assigned to the Vice Division. Several officers went to trial and were cleared, but one was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Chief Gabrielson resigned for “personal reasons” and the Police Commission said it was not in any way connected with the pay-off scandal. The department was rocked at its roots, but it emerged stronger and totally reorganized.
William Hoopai took the oath of Chief on July 1, 1946. He is credited with the creation of the Metro Squad, an elite unit assigned as gang busters and with creating a Plans and Training Bureau. Chief Hoopai retired in 1948.
In 1952 the style of HPD’s current badge was introduced.
Daniel S.C. Liu, who began his career in the Honolulu Police Department as a clerk, was appointed to the Chief of Police position on October 1, 1948. Hawaii became the 50th State on August 21, 1959.
The Growing Years
With the advances in air travel in the 1960’s Hawaii’s tourist industry grew rapidly. Besides the many curious and vulnerable visitors to the islands there was also a concern that Hawaii could become a “cooling-off” area for criminal types who needed to leave their own localities. There was also some thought that some highly sophisticated criminals with an organization behind them may see Hawaii as an ideal place from which to direct their operations. Besides being a favorite vacation area, Hawaii was also a land rich in source areas for confidence game operators and vice criminals. Chief Liu initiated strong enforcement programs against vice criminals.
From 1960 on, court rulings on defendant rights and rules of evidence brought about strict new guidelines for procedures used by police during the course of an investigation. In some cases, what used to be permissible was suddenly unlawful. The Department began intensive training programs for senior officers and new recruits. It stressed the importance of officers not only being capable of enforcing the law, but also knowledgeable of the law itself. The recognition of “minority groups” and somewhat new and at times shocking decisions of appellate courts had a definite effect on police operations. The assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, the Reverend Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy and the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald, and the flight and capture of James Earl Ray, all contributed in some definite way to point out that an upgrading of police standards and values had to be undertaken immediately.
The Honolulu Police Department had to deal with the same serious problems that the nation faced, with young adults expressing dissatisfaction with the “Establishment”, drug abuse, and a general disrespect for the law. It became necessary for officers to be aware of deeper sociological problems involved with dealing with people instead of being mere “enforcers” of the law..
Chief Liu retired in 1969 after serving 20 years as chief. Francis Keala was promoted from captain of the Finance Division to Chief in 1969. This same year the Communications Division changed from Police Officer status to that of civilian status. This move released police officers from “inside” clerical positions so that they could be utilized more effectively in regular beat patrol duties. This lead to the review and civilianization of other jobs in the department.
In 1975 the Department changed the badge designation of “Patrolman” to that of “Officer”. The change was necessary when the first females were accepted into the department to perform the same patrol function former the domain of males only. The females were required to undergo the same qualifications testing procedures as the males, and if successful, they were enrolled in the Recruit Training course. Females were afforded no special treatment. The first female patrol officers were Mary Beck and Barbara Uphouse who were commissioned in 1975. The lowering of height, weight and vision requirements lead to equal opportunities usually denied to females and minority groups.
Douglas B. Gibb was appointed Chief of Police on June 20, 1983 after Chief Keala retired. During Chief Gibb’s administration the department garnered a global perspective as national and international type crimes became commonplace. High tech advances in computerization and in police equipment and techniques improved crime detection.
HPD in the 90’s
In 1990 the Honolulu Police Department implemented the Automated Fingerprint Identifications System (AFIS). It is managed by the Hawaii Criminal Justice Data Center. The majority of comparisons verifies the identity of arrested persons. Fingerprints of suspects entered into AFIS and compared to file prints can verify correct names and previous arrest records. The high speed comparison of crime scene partial fingerprints or latent prints to the data base is a boon to crime detection. This function resulted in almost 400 “hits” or positive identifications in the first two years of its operation. These “hits” probably would never have occurred prior to the implementation of AFIS.
Chief Michael S. Nakamura was sworn in on August 1, 1990. Under Chief Nakamura the Department became involved with community policing and community problem solving.
On October 16, 1992, the grand opening of Honolulu’s eighth main station, Hale Maka’i, was held.
Honolulu Police Department’s crime lab has been expanded to provide statewide services. This unit consists of professionals with certification in natural and biological sciences. They are responsible for processing evidence recovered from persons and crime scenes through microscopy and instrumentation analysis. Their work includes serology, trace evidence, drugs and alcohol, firearms, tool marks and document examination. Among the newest and technologically advanced areas is the crime lab’s DNA unit.
Women continued to advance within the Department’s ranks. On February 16, 1997, Barbara Uphouse Wong was promoted to the rank of Assistant Chief. She was one of the first female officers commissioned by the Honolulu Police Department back in 1975.
Chief Nakamura retired on December 30, 1997, after 27 years of service. Lee Donohue was named Chief of Police on April 13, 1998.
As the 1990s came to an end the Honolulu Police Department began to implement new and improved technology. Our police radio system was improved. A digital mug system went on-line at the main station in April, 1997. Imaging of police reports began in December, 1998. By late 1999 laptops capable of receiving and transmitting information were installed in selected police vehicles.
In the summer of 1999 the department was about to start training officers on the use of an Automated External Defibrillator (AED). This instrument proved its value when it saved the life of one of our own — Chief Lee Donohue. He collapsed after participating in arrest procedures competition at the police academy. Fortunately, with the use of the AED, he did not sustain any heart damage and was able to return to work after a few weeks.
Officer retention was another topic of discussion in 1999. Many officers were recruited by police departments in the Pacific Northwest — in Oregon and Washington State. Officers from Hawaii formed their own group years ago — the Northwest Maka’i Ohana.