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Search for Big Island’s next top cop narrows to 21; identities of applicants remain secret

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The Hawai‘i County Police Commission meets Friday at the County Building in Hilo for its regular monthly meeting. Chairman John Bertsch gave a brief update during the meeting about the ongoing search for the Big Island’s next police chief. Photo by Nathan Christophel/Big Island Now.

The search for the next Big Island police chief is down to 21 candidates from the original 44 applications.

Hawai‘i County Police Commission Chairman John Bertsch said during the commission meeting Friday that a few candidates did not meet the minimum standards for the job and were disqualified.

Those who did meet the minimum requirements were invited to provide additional information by answering a questionnaire. The Commission received responses from 22 of the applicants, but one person has since rescinded his candidacy.

The vacancy was created when Paul Ferreira retired as Hawai’i County’s police chief on Sept. 1. Deputy Chief Kenneth Bugado Jr. is serving as interim chief while the Commission works to fill the position.

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Recruitment began a month prior to Ferreira leaving the department. Applications for the post were accepted from Aug. 1-28.

Bertsch said “if everything goes smoothly” a new police chief could be selected by the end of the year.

Hawai‘i County Police Commission Chairman John Bertsch speaks during Friday’s meeting. Photo by Nathan Christophel/Big Island Now.

The application process is being handled by the county’s Human Resources Department.

The applications and the questionnaires are identified by numbers only. The identities of the applicants continue to be shrouded in secrecy. Even the Commission does not know the names of the applicants.

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“The reason we did that was so that, one, it would be fair and impartial for all the applicants,” Bertsch said. “Two, it would be unbiased for any of the commissioners so that we could try to make sure that we evaluated and ranked each of the applicants based on the questionnaire.”

Once the Commission is finished rating each of the remaining applicants, their scores will be aggregated and an executive session will be convened so commission members can discuss how to move forward based on those scores.

After commission members whittle the field to what they think is a manageable working group of applicants based on what they think were the best responses to the questionnaire, the Commission will request Human Resources to provide any additional information collected about each candidate earlier in the process and the names of the selected finalists.

At that time, Bertsch, with the permission of his fellow commissioners, will most likely send out letters to all applicants, including the finalists, notifying them of their status in the selection process.

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“So they will be first to know, and then we will identify publicly who the finalists are,” Bertsch said.

After the finalists are identified to the public, Bertsch said the Commission’s goal is to schedule hearings so the community can have the opportunity to comment on and engage with each of the applicants remaining in selection process. Those finalists also would be invited to provide public testimony and provide the Commission with feedback during those meetings.

Following those hearings, the Commission will likely interview each candidate individually in executive session.

“At the conclusion of that phase, hopefully the commission will be comfortable enough to either require additional information or make a selection at that time,” Bertsch said.

The Hilo Police Department as seen Friday from Kapiʻolani Street in Hilo. The Hawai‘i County Police Commission could make a decision by the end of the year on who will be the Big Island’s next top cop. Photo by Megan Moseley.

Bertsch thanked Bugado, who was present during Friday’s meeting, for standing in as chief while the Commission continues its search. He also thanked everyone for their patience during the selection process for the next chief.

“I know we’re just as excited to find out who’s applied as the rest of you are, but we are trying to make this as fair and as impartial as we possibly can,” Bertsch said.

Nathan Christophel
Nathan Christophel has more than 20 years of experience in journalism, starting out as a reporter and working his way up to become a copy editor and page designer, most recently at the Hawaii Tribune-Herald in Hilo.
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