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Thursday, April 6, 2000

By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
Asst. Chief Barbara Wong, the highest ranking female
police officer, reminisces with Sgt. Clyde Yamashiro
and Edna Jones, a senior clerk typist, who, years back,
had phoned Wong to inform her she was being hired.

The Law calls
HPD’s top woman

The assistant chief will
retire on June 20, then
attend law school at UH

By Jaymes K. Song


The highest-ranking female officer in the history of the Honolulu Police Department has decided to call it quits to attend law school in the fall.

After 28 years with HPD, Assistant police chief Barbara Wong will retire June 20 to attend the University of Hawaii's William S. Richardson School of Law.

Wong, who is also one of the highest-ranking policewomen in the nation, never dreamed of becoming a police officer, not to mention an assistant chief.

After returning from school on the mainland, she applied to McDonald's, Leonard's Bakery and the HPD -- and the police department was the only one that called.

"I didn't plan to be any particular rank," said the veteran. "I always felt, if I did the best job I could, everything will fall in place. And it pretty much did.

"I enjoyed it, and I gave it my heart and soul."

The 46-year-old mother of three decided to switch careers to try something different. She also wanted to pursue a career she aspired to before joining the department.

Wong informed Police Chief Lee Donohue of her decision on Tuesday, a decision she said was very difficult because HPD has become her "second family."

Donohue yesterday spoke highly of Wong, whom he referred to as a "pioneer."

"She was able to, by merit, work her way up to the ranks of 'AC,' " Donohue said. "For women, when she started in the '70s, it was a tough time when they weren't accepted as police officers. She showed the female can do the job and do it very well."

Wong joined HPD in 1972 and spent almost three years as a dispatcher before she and Mary Beck became the first female Honolulu officers on Jan. 16, 1975.

Prior to 1975, there were only "policewomen" on staff. Policewomen went through the same training as their male colleagues, but handled only juvenile cases. The officer position was opened to women after policewoman Lucile Abreu won a federal discrimination suit.

Wong was received with mixed emotions by her fellow officers.

"Initially, the vast majority were neutral and it was wait and see," she said. "They wanted to see if I would show up at fights or drive away. Or if would carry my share of the load.

"A small minority didn't want you there at all, and a small minority was happy."

In her years with the department, she has held almost every rank. She was promoted to assistant chief in February 1997 and currently serves as head of the administrative bureau.

"Assistant Chief Wong is one of the finest of Honolulu's finest," said Mayor Jeremy Harris. "She is a talented, bright and a superb executive who worked her way through the department. She excelled in every job she held, from the tough front line assignment to demanding staff jobs."

Wong has served in several divisions including: patrol, tactical operations (now known as the Specialized Services), criminal investigations, communications, human resources and traffic.

"I always feel you have to prove yourself -- prove your worth," she said.

Her strong work ethic and dedication was a foundation of her success, a quality she says she adopted from her mother.

"It was a challenge to become the first two women officers on patrol," she said. "It was challenging and exciting. That's what I wanted to do." She says her challenge now is going back to school with students half her age.

Wong said the best part was the people she met and worked with. And she is pleased that more women are looking into police work as a career.

Women comprise 11 percent of HPD. "I liked helping people. It gave me a really good sense of satisfaction when I was able to assist people, reassure people, make people feel more comfortable," Wong said.

One of her fondest memories was trekking in the mud and bushes to search for a lost child, who was eventually found.

Wong is one of six assistant chiefs in the department. When she leaves, Maj. Susan Dowsett of Narcotics/Vice and Maj. Karen Kaniho of training will become HPD's highest ranking women.

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