CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Correa back in fray, a little more carefully
Police chief hopes to strengthen ties to community
STORY SUMMARY »
For the new year, Honolulu Police Chief Boisse Correa leaves behind a debilitating back ailment and hopes to bring the department closer to the community.
Correa, in his first interview since emergency back surgery in October, is still undergoing several hours of therapy every week, on top of reassuming the reins of the Police Department.
Despite the surgery, the fourth since 2003, Correa said not to count him out yet, and he aims to secure more federal funding for the department and key in on neighborhoods to help adapt to ever-changing demands and demographics.
FULL STORY »
Police Chief Boisse Correa is starting the new year by hitting the ground running. Or sometimes walking for a couple of hours. Or swimming.
He's just glad he's getting around without a cane.
Correa resumed his full duties as the ninth chief of the Honolulu Police Department on Christmas Eve, but is still undergoing strict rehabilitation after his fourth back surgery in October.
This includes four hours of supervised therapy a week as well as three to four hours of personal therapy, including exercise.
In his first interview since the surgery, the 62-year-old Correa looked relaxed and spry in a suit jacket, slacks and aloha shirt yesterday. He also lost about 35 pounds, although "there are better ways at losing weight," he said, laughing.
"This was a very eye-opening, traumatic experience for me," he said. "I knew I had some pain, but all of a sudden it just hit me. ... Bang. I couldn't walk."
Correa had been on injured leave since Aug. 31, and had to go into emergency spinal surgery on Oct. 19 at the Queen's Medical Center. Although the chief has declined to specify his ailment, he said it stems from an injury years ago during training exercises as an assistant chief.
In 1970, Correa signed on with the National Football League's Cleveland Browns before changing his mind to join the Police Department.
He said his mind is young but his body is aging, and although Correa has tried to keep up with the younger force, he has begun to realize his limits.
"I've always been a physical type of person, and you always want to keep up with your officers," he said. "When there's a physical challenge, you participate, and maybe I shouldn't have participated as hard as I did."
The chief said he now walks or runs every day, and swims and lifts weights to work out his atrophied muscles. For some time, he had to walk with a cane.
Correa said he was kept informed of decisions and was sought for advice. Deputy Chief Paul Putzulu ran day-to-day operations during the leave, and the chief said he was proud of his team.
He cited lower traffic fatalities last year, 66 compared with 90 in 2006, and bank robberies, 12 compared with 41 in 2006.
He also cited his team's tougher enforcement on traffic issues, including climbing drunken-driving arrests and more than 40,000 traffic citations.
"When I went out, people just stepped up to the plate, and the department didn't miss a beat," he said.
When an officer is out on extended injured leave, his or her law enforcement authority is temporarily stripped.
"If they're sick, we tell them, 'Put on civilian clothes. We don't want you with a gun and a badge and, if something happens, you respond to it,'" he said. "We want them to get well. That was the whole philosophy behind it."
Correa said he was no exception, although critics accused him of retaining his police powers. Even now, back in the administrative saddle, he is eschewing the uniform and says he will not don his badge and gun until he is 100 percent better.
"The policy was never changed for the chief or the officers," he insisted. "The chief was not getting preferential treatment."
Looking forward for 2008, the chief outlined several goals for the department, including the scramble for more federal grants geared at better equipment and facilities.
"As the war continues, our moneys coming from the federal government will keep shrinking up," Correa said. "When the federal budget was shrinking, we kept up buying equipment through Homeland Security grants, and that's what we have to keep doing."
Correa said he wants the department to adapt at will, like it did earlier in the year when it responded to several fatal pedestrian accidents. That is why he wants the department to focus on building relationships on the neighborhood level.
"I want to build that rapport," Correa said. "Demographics constantly change and so do the demands. They need to communicate their needs to us so we can react."
Despite three prior surgeries, two in April and August 2006 and another in 2003, Correa said retirement is not yet on the table after 38 years with the department.
"Every chief goes through this," Correa said. "They know when it's time to go. But you also want to see what you're setting in place, the strategies and planning taking root. I'm just trying to make sure everything is right, and when the time comes I'm going to move on. But I really want to maintain the integrity of the department as well as a safe community."
THE CHIEF SPEAKS
In an interview with the Star-Bulletin yesterday, Police Chief Boisse Correa discussed several issues.
ON POLICE LEADERSHIP
"As a chief, you can't always lead, and you have to let your people be leaders. In police work, the beat officer is going to make decisions and use his discretion and become a leader in the field. I really believe in leadership at every level, and that's what happened when I was gone. People stepped up to the plate."
ON ADAPTING WITH THE TIMES
"Because we cut off the 'ice,' and we put so much emphasis on the training and money and the courts, ice is going back down, but you're going to see cocaine coming back. Maybe the youth gangs will diminish, but you'll see the gangs coming back out of prison. A lot of problems have to do with computers, with identity theft. It's a constant intelligent-based policing effort."
ON HIS AILMENT
"When you go through these things, you go through fear, disappointment, a lot of pain, and then you look at your mortality and your faith. And it's all in a bubble."
ON HIS REHABILITATION
"Before, I used to come back very quickly (from previous surgeries), but I think the big issue was too much, too soon. I've come back this time, and now I'm going to take everybody's advice."
ON HIS HOPES FOR THE DEPARTMENT
"When we leave the department, the legacy that we leave hopefully is that the department is better prepared for the challenges of the future."