Updated October 6, 2021 - 4:24 pm
A Las Vegas police captain was named on Tuesday as the new chief of the Maui Police Department in Hawaii after a unanimous vote from the Maui Police Commission.
Capt. John Pelletier, a 22-year veteran of the Metropolitan Police Department, was one of five finalists interviewed for the position on Friday by the commission.
Maui Mayor Michael Victorino congratulated Pelletier in a statement posted to the County of Maui’s Facebook page on Wednesday.
“We look forward to welcoming him to Maui County from the ninth island of Las Vegas,” Victorino said in the statement, adding that all five finalists for the position were qualified and willing to serve. “The people of Maui County are fortunate to have this level of commitment to this community.”
A common theme throughout Friday’s meeting, which was emphasized by the commission’s decision to livestream the interviews, was a push for openness and transparency within the Maui Police Department, commission Chair Frank De Rego said.
Pelletier told the commission that during his time with Metro he has run the K-9 and SWAT sections, been a detective sergeant in the gang unit, been in internal affairs and been an instructor in the police academy, among other positions. He said he sees the new job as an opportunity to use his experience to “reboot the entire department.”
When asked why he would be the right fit, Pelletier capitalized on his experience heading an area command in one of the largest tourist destinations in the world.
“I understand tourist-based policing and community-based policing at the highest level,” Pelletier said. “I understand that the citizens of Maui County deserve to have the best police service possible in order to move forward, and it’s my job, my desire, my wish to come here and help take this agency, which is good, and make it great.”
Pelletier reflected on the four-year anniversary of the Oct. 1, 2017, shooting during his interview and described leading the area command that covers the Strip that night as his greatest professional achievement. He said he was at home when he got a call alerting him about an active shooter in his area command.
He recalled the “incredible loss of life” Las Vegas saw that day, including the death of one police officer, and said he believes his experience leading a team of officers that day has prepared him to handle any situation going forward.
“It took years to build that response. It took years to get that right, but we got that right, and we got our hands around it, and we did something incredible,” he said of Metro’s response after the mass shooting. “We took the biggest crime scene, second only to 9/11, and we did everything to mitigate that. We brought a community together. We did something really, really great.”
Pelletier will not be the first police chief in Hawaii from Las Vegas.
Kauai Police Chief Todd Raybuck took over the department in 2019 after a 27-year career in the Metropolitan Police Department, but he recently has found himself in the middle of controversy.
The police commission suspended Raybuck in April and said he would be required to complete Equal Employment Opportunity anti-discrimination training and cultural sensitivity training.
When asked how he would address cultural, racial and ethnic issues in Hawaii, Pelletier acknowledged the “painful and serious” history within the state’s multi-cultural community and emphasized the importance of diversity.
“Our diversity is our strength, make no mistake about that,” Pelletier said, promising to ensure adequate training for all officers.
“Don’t be afraid to do a critical assessment of yourself and ask what’s going right, what’s going wrong and how we can get better and talk. And guess what? We will break those barriers down,” Pelletier said. “I’ll tell you this: When I raise my hand and I swear my oath as the chief of police, it will be to protect all the people in Hawaii and make sure that everybody feels that they have equal protection under the law, so help me God.”
He also swore to introduce two community policing practices currently used by Metro to the Maui Police Department: a multicultural advisory council to meet with the chief once a month, and First Tuesday gatherings led by each district commander monthly to allow community members to make their voices heard.