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4 candidates for Hawaiʻi County police chief face questioning ahead of decision

four candidates for County of Hawaiʻi Police Department chief
Final four candidates for County of Hawaiʻi Police Department chief. Seated, from left to right: Hawaiʻi Police Department Maj. Sherry Bird, Honolulu Police Department Maj. Benjamin Moszkowicz, retired FBI agent Edward Ignacio, Kauaʻi Police Department Acting Assistant Chief Paul Applegate.

Earlier this week, Hawaiʻi Island residents got a first glimpse of who could be their next police chief — and many are familiar faces.

The process started earlier this year when former Hawaiʻi County Police Chief Paul Ferreira retired in September.

The final four candidates are Kauaʻi Police Department Acting Assistant Chief Paul Applegate, Hawaiʻi Police Department Maj. Sherry Bird, retired FBI agent Edward Ignacio, and Honolulu Police Department Maj. Benjamin Moszkowicz.

The Hawaiʻi County Police Commission selected the candidates via a blind application process, but once applicants were revealed, Chair John Bertsch had to recuse himself.

Edward Ignacio

On Monday, Bertsch disclosed a long-standing relationship with candidate Edward Ignacio, which included traveling and living together.

"It would be unfair to all the applicants, including Ed, that this relationship may be perceived to affect the final outcome of the selection process," Bertsch said. "For this, I must conflict out."

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Hawaiʻi County
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Edward Ignacio, a retired senior resident agent for the FBI and a former officer at the Hawaiʻi County and Honolulu police departments.

Ignacio is a retired Senior Resident Agent for the FBI. In the '90s, he was an officer in Honolulu and Hawaiʻi County, meaning Ignacio has been out of the police force for more than two decades.

"I always knew that I'd be sitting before you here applying for the chief, whether I'd stayed in this department or took my journey that I did," Ignacio told commissioners. "I have the ability to see things at a 30,000-foot level and I have the ability to bring to the table things that my other candidates don't have: I have experienced worldwide."

With the FBI, Ignacio worked with multi-million-dollar budgets, and was a response crisis planner for large events, like the Olympic Games, Super Bowl and conferences.

Sherry Bird

Sherry Bird is the only candidate currently employed by the Hawaiʻi Island department, covering Area II Field Operations Bureau for the west side.

"I've established myself as a present, visible, approachable, you know, I'm open to engage in dialogue and work together to come up with solutions whatever the issue is," Bird said.

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Hawaiʻi County
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Hawaiʻi County Police Department Maj. Sherry Bird

During this year’s Ironman triathlon, Bird accepted a complimentary hotel room from Courtyard by Marriot in Kailua-Kona. She did not disclose this nearly $2,000, four-night stay to the county’s Board of Ethics, and maintains she did not knowingly violate ethics codes.

"I'm going to stand by my position that I did not utilize the hotel room or perceive it to be a gift or a reward for my actions acting in my official capacity working this event," Bird said when asked by commissioners.

Code states that an officer shall not accept any gift that can be reasonably inferred that the gift is intended to influence the officer or employee in the performance of the officer's or employee's official duties or is intended as a reward for any official action on the officer's or employee's part. What can be defined as a gift can be anything from money to travel or hospitality.ʻ

Paul Applegate

Finalist Paul Applegate is the acting assistant chief of the patrol services bureau for the Kauaʻi Police Department. In 2021, he filed a complaint against current KPD chief Todd Raybuck and the county for racial discrimination and retaliation. The litigation is ongoing.

Applegate grew up on Hawaiʻi Island and was endorsed by several testifying residents and officers. He stressed his commitment to an audit of the department.

"This would be a comprehensive independent audit to identify where we are, a snapshot in time where our funding is going, what are we spending on, what resources we have deployed, what trainings we need, what trainings we have, and use this information to conduct a three year strategic plan," he said.

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Hawaiʻi County
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Kauaʻi Police Department Acting Assistant Chief Paul Applegate, left, and Honolulu Police Department Maj. Benjamin Moszkowicz, right.

Benjamin Moszkowicz

Benjamin Moszkowicz is with the Honolulu Police Department in the traffic division. Earlier this year, he was a finalist for the job of Oʻahu police chief — which ultimately went to Joe Logan.

"My skill set is much broader base and much more I feel like have an executive-level skill set where I can come in and form collaborations, identify partners, find solutions that work and as the CEO basically of this company of the Hawaiʻi County Police Department, those are the skills that I bring to the table," Moszkowicz said.

Commissioners seemed concerned his academics may get in the way of the job.

"This job would be a humongous time commitment, and that certainly is a priority that would slide ahead of me continuing my academic progress, at least temporarily," he said.

Other candidates received favorable, and at times negative, testimony for or against them. But Moszkowicz received very little traction, possibly due to being the only candidate who has not lived or worked on this island.

The state’s police union, SHOPO, has not endorsed any candidate, however, some active and former officers did share with commissioners their feelings.

Mark Arnold is a Hawaiʻi County police officer and is also on the police union's state board as a director at large. He said he’d like to see Applegate’s leadership to address ongoing morale and retention issues.

"Currently, right now, on the Big Island, we have the highest number of active grievances in the state, even more than Honolulu," Arnold said. "That is a result of this pure mismanagement, honestly."

A new chief will have to face in-flux retention, understaffing and training.

The Police Commission will meet Friday to continue its selection process, and will possibly make a decision.

Update: The commission picked Benjamin Moszkowicz from the Honolulu Police Department on Friday, Dec. 16, 2022.

Sabrina Bodon is a general assignment reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Contact her at sbodon@hawaiipublicradio.org or 808-792-8252.
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