Maui police chief set to retire in May

Faaumu said he planned to leave last year but stayed on during pandemic

Maui Police Chief Tivoli Faaumu speaks during a forum at the Cameron Center in June. Faaumu confirmed Friday that he will retire May 1, a decision he said “did not have anything to do with” a minor collision Nov. 7 when he backed his truck into a parked motorcycle at the Queen Ka’ahumanu Center. — The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Police Chief Tivoli Faaumu said he will retire May 1, ending a police career of more than 35 years in a decision he said was unrelated to a minor motor vehicle collision in November.

“It’s time. I feel that the department is in good hands,” Faaumu said Friday. “Now it’s time for me to take care of my family.”

Faaumu, 61, has been chief for the past six and a half years. He was appointed to the job by the Maui Police Commission in September 2014.

He said his decision to retire “did not have anything to do with” a minor motor vehicle collision Nov. 7 when he backed his pickup truck into a parked motorcycle while reversing out of a parking stall at Queen Ka’ahumanu Center. Faaumu said he didn’t know he had hit the motorcycle when he drove away.

Surveillance video of the truck hitting the motorcycle was posted on YouTube about a week and a half later, after Faaumu said he received an anonymous letter saying a copy of the video would be sent to the media and giving him a deadline to retire.

Police Commission Chairman Frank De Rego confirmed Friday that there’s an ongoing investigation into what happened Nov. 7.

“We’ve retained the services of an outside investigator,” De Rego said.

He had no comment on whether the chief’s retirement would affect the investigation.

Discussion about the status of the investigation is on the agenda, in closed executive session, of the Police Commission meeting Wednesday.

Also on the commission agenda, in public session, is the hiring of a new police chief. De Rego said that was placed on the agenda coincidentally in anticipation of the chief’s retirement, although he had not received official word Friday.

“Personally, I wish the chief well,” De Rego said. “He really has done the community a service by not having a transition in leadership during the pandemic.”

Faaumu said he didn’t know about the commission investigation.

“If they’re conducting an investigation, I’m not privy to all of that,” he said.

He said he had planned to retire last year before Mayor Michael Victorino asked him to stay on in the pandemic.

With no precedent for working through a pandemic, “we were out there, doing what we were doing and writing the policies as we were going,” Faaumu said.

“It was very, very challenging,” he said. “I would meet with the mayor in the morning, come back by noon. When we’re ready to push out the paperwork, things change.”

From reviewing current situation reports from police district commanders, “it appears we have everything under control,” Faaumu said.

“Now with the numbers increasing, we’re out there enforcing the mask violations because they appear to be some of the issues that could contribute to the numbers,” he said.

The development and increased availability of vaccines has helped, Faaumu said.

“The key was the vaccine,” he said.

During his time as chief, the Maui Police Department restarted its successful motorcycle unit that has put solo bike officers in the field doing traffic enforcement. Former Police Chief Gary Yabuta came up with the idea to revisit the program, Faaumu said.

The department also implemented a body-worn camera program that Faaumu estimated has reduced complaints about officers’ conduct by 75 percent.

“It makes officers better ourselves because we know we should be mindful of what we say in public,” he said.

Last year, only six complaints resulted in suspensions for officers, Faaumu said.

He said the department used CARES Act funding to initiate its Citizen Online Police Reporting System that allows people to submit certain nonemergency reports online. The system, launched in January, grew out of procedures set up early in the pandemic to minimize public contact with officers, Faaumu said.

In a statement Friday, Victorino also said that Faaumu “planned to retire last year before COVID-19 struck, but he agreed to stay on for a year to help us with the pandemic.

“That showed his continued commitment to public service and the men and women who serve with him in law enforcement,” Victorino said. “Chief Tivo also did a great job of transforming the department, making it a more public-oriented, highly functional public safety agency. I wish him all the best with his retirement.”

Faaumu and his longtime partner, Deborah Ross, recently married.

When he joined MPD on Aug. 5, 1985, Faaumu became the department’s first Tongan police officer. He grew up in Tonga, leaving when he was 17 to study business at Brigham Young University-Hawaii on Oahu.

He was the first Tongan police chief in the state, according to the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers.

“It was a good run,” Faaumu said. “I never expected I would be a chief one day. It was very good years. Last year was challenging. I really enjoyed it.”

* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at lfujimoto@mauinews.com.


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