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Las Vegas captain selected as next Maui police chief

John Pelletier was among five finalists and only candidate outside of department

Capt. John Pelletier, a 22-year veteran of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and commander of the Major Violator/Narcotics Bureau, was chosen unanimously by the Maui Police Commission on Tuesday to be the next chief of the Maui Police Department. His selection is subject to pre-employment requirements, including background and drug tests, a psychological evaluation and credit report, and final approval by the commission next month. Photo courtesy of John Pelletier

Las Vegas police Capt. John Pelletier, who said a top priority would be “building trust and transparency,” was selected Tuesday as the final candidate to be Maui police chief.

The nine-member Maui Police Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to advance Pelletier from the list of five finalists for the job to lead the department of 416 employees.

His selection is subject to pre-employment requirements, including background and drug tests, a psychological evaluation and credit report, and final approval by the commission next month.

“I’m humbled and honored to have been given this incredible opportunity, and I understand what the selection means,” Pelletier, 49, said by telephone afterward. “I have the utmost respect for the other competitors and was honored to have been in the selection process with them.

“I look forward to getting the opportunity to build bridges within the community and build trust and transparency both internally and externally.”

At an online commission meeting lasting about an hour Tuesday morning, Commissioner Janet Kuwahara nominated Pelletier to be the final candidate, saying “one candidate really exemplified what we’re looking for in our next chief.”

She said county residents have “expressed the need for change.”

“I feel the sentiment is also within the Police Department,” Kuwahara said. “I have received numerous calls from sworn and unsworn employees that have been expressing this.”

Commissioner Stacey Moniz, who seconded the motion, said she was a little hesitant at first to hire an off-island candidate.

During interviews of the finalists including Pelletier last week, “I felt like his answers were very on point,” Moniz said.

“He had done his homework. He was prepared,” Moniz said, adding that “he had contacted key people in our community,” including the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers union.

“He talked a lot about transparency, creative ideas to engage the community,” Moniz said. “These are all things that really spoke very strongly to me.”

She noted that Pelletier’s “Mainland style” that’s “confident and assertive” contrasted with the “humble and quieter” way of people growing up in the state.

Over the weekend, Moniz said she came across a photo of Pelletier at the opening of a rape crisis center in Las Vegas and contacted the organization’s executive director, who has worked with law enforcement for many years.

“He is her favorite law enforcement ever, and that’s saying a lot,” Moniz said.

She said the director reported that no one had taken advantage of a center program to train security at hotels until Pelletier heard about it.

“Thanks to him, they have trained over 5,000 security officers over the last five years,” Moniz said. “She said he’s humble, he’s willing to do the right thing even if it wasn’t popular.”

Commissioner Mark Redeker said “it’s my opinion that there really has to be a change.”

He said he gave the highest interview scores to Pelletier and retired Assistant Chief Larry Hudson.

“I would have no problem going with either one,” Redeker said.

Commissioner Matthew Mano, who participated in the interviews by videoconference from Lanai, said he saw Pelletier and Hudson look the commissioners in the eye.

“Some of the officers that contacted me talked about having a change,” Mano said. “They didn’t say who.”

Commissioner Emmett Rodrigues said Pelletier was strong in his interview and written examination.

“We just have to see if he can do the job,” Rodrigues said. “Like he said, it’s going to take five to seven years to bring it up to par, and we’re probably not going to be here.”

Commission Chairman Frank De Rego said Pelletier met several benchmarks, including education, with his bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Nevada Las Vegas and graduation from the FBI National Academy.

Pelletier was “the only person I saw who was thinking outside the box” when asked to define community policing and how to implement it, De Rego said.

During his interview, Pelletier said he would reform the MPD Community Relations Section into an “office of community engagement” reporting to the chief and create a multicultural advisory council with monthly meetings.

De Rego said another benchmark was Pelletier’s strategic plan.

In his written examination, Pelletier said his vision was for Maui “to be the safest island community possible” and his mission was “to provide pono police service in partnership (with) the community.”

“A plan is a plan. It can go right or wrong,” De Rego said. “But it’s a path forward. It’s a way to taking an assessment, getting the stakeholders involved, looking at your operations, not only internally but externally.

“There were a couple of people who stood out, who I think understood the process. But there was one person who really understands the process.”

He said the commission could use the written answers to “hold them to what they’re promising they will do.”

From Pelletier, De Rego said he saw “leadership, management ability and accountability and sustainability.”

Vice Chairwoman Roberta “Bobbie” Patnode said she agreed with “so many wonderful things” said by other commissioners.

“I could not help but be impressed by John Pelletier,” she said. “He has done so much homework. He really wants this job. It is the closest thing to his heart and he has proven that to us and he has proven that he can be a leader.”

She and other commissioners also acknowledged the other finalists — Wailuku patrol Capt. Everett Ferreira, Hudson, Assistant Chief John Jakubczak and Assistant Chief Victor Ramos.

All have had excellent careers, said Commissioner Travis Tancayo, representing Molokai.

“I give all the credit, big credit, for putting it all on the line and doing what they did,” Tancayo said.

“I really wish we could choose five chiefs, but we can’t,” Mano said.

The vote Tuesday followed a selection process that was revised to allow for interviews of the candidates in an open public session that was aired online Friday.

“I truly appreciate the strength and wisdom that the commission displayed through the whole process and applaud the transparency,” Pelletier said. “And the interactions that I got to have with the community in the limited time meant so much to me. I know as we spend the future together, we’re going to have incredible opportunities to make this the safest island community possible.”

Pelletier, a third-generation police officer and 22-year veteran of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, has been commander of the Major Violator/Narcotics Bureau since January 2020, following earlier leadership assignments including heading the Convention Center Area Command that includes the Las Vegas strip.

He was born in Buffalo, N.Y., and has lived in Las Vegas for more than 30 years since he was 17.

He said he has been visiting Hawaii for more than 20 years and has kept tabs on the MPD chief position for years.

After the chief selection in 2014, when applicants were required to have been state residents for at least one year, the law was changed to eliminate the requirement. The job pays $158,851 a year.

While on Maui for six days to take the written test and participate in oral interviews by the commission last week, “I made it a point that I would talk to anybody that wanted to speak,” Pelletier said.

“I was able to reach out to the LGBTQ community, the native community as well as police officers and everyday folks who were just desirous to share their thoughts and ideas and listen to my thoughts and ideas,” he said. “Breaking down barriers is how you build relationships and trust.”

Pelletier and his wife, Cristy, have a daughter and son who are 13-year-old twins.

The new chief will replace Chief Tivoli Faaumu, who retired May 1.

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

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