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Tuesday, April 11, 2000

Police Badge

Lawyer by day,
Cop by night

For Honolulu's reserve officers,
serving the community is
its own reward

Requirements for HPD reserves

By Jaymes K. Song


Charlie Dang is one of the few Honolulu police officers who is not concerned with pay. That's because he gets no pay.

Dang is one of 68 Honolulu Police Department reserve officers who volunteer at least one night a week to serve the community.

Faced with a shortage and retirements, HPD is looking for at least 32 more reserves. For the first time since 1992, HPD is hoping to bolster its reserve force, with the newest group of recruits to be assigned to the Kaneohe/Kailua areas.

By Ken Sakamoto, Star-Bulletin
Charlie Dang in his law office ...

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
Charlie Dang in police uniform.

But just because the job doesn't pay, don't think it's easy to become a reserve officer.

Reserve officers have the same police powers, so go through the same training, background checks and physical testing as their full-time colleagues.

Of the 500 people

who applied last year for the latest reserve recruit class, 100 passed background checks and other requirements to take the written test. Only 35 passed the written test.

That number is expected to drop even lower because of drop-outs and people failing the police academy training.

Because the number is so low, HPD reopened the application process this year, pushing back the training to begin at the end of the year. Officials are hoping for at least 70 people in this year's reserve class. The deadline for applications is Friday.

"Because of the complexity of the job, requirements of training and liability issues, it's hard to find people willing to make commitments that are required," said police Chief Lee Donohue.

Dang was a regular full-time officer when he decided to become an attorney to pay the bills. He had accumulated thousands of dollars in student loans and had a mortgage when he joined HPD in 1987.

"I had a hard time making ends meet financially," he recalled. "I was eating at my mom's house again."

He quit the force, but signed up as a reserve officer.

"This is very rewarding, very satisfying in the heart," he said of being a reserve. "It makes your soul feel good."

Same risks, responsibilities

Reserves are used for various duties, including traffic control, patrol, undercover drug buys, juvenile services and desk work. They are required to volunteer at least five hours a week, although many put in several hours more.

Reserves also face the same dangers as full-time officers.

"To me, it's the highest level of community service," said Sgt. Jay Trinidad, coordinator of the reserve program. "They are putting their lives on the line."

In 1987, reserve officer Brian Sugimoto was shot in the back of the head by Robert Wahlberg at the Burger King in Moiliili. Sugimoto, also an attorney, survived the gunshot wound and still serves as a reserve.

The reserve program is important, Trinidad said, because it saves money for HPD while putting more officers on Oahu streets.

When Dang, 43, isn't chasing crooks and patrolling the streets from Ala Moana Center to Mayor Wright Housing in Kalihi, he's swimming through paperwork, attending court hearings and meeting clients for his full-time job as a personal-injury attorney at Bickerton, Saunders, Dang.

"As an attorney, you get to help people, you get to fix things," he said. "Someone gives you a problem and you get to fix things, but it might take years.

"When you're a police officer, you can fix it right then and there."

"They're good people who want to help the community," Donohue said of Dang and other reserves. "They take on an awesome responsibility."

The reserve officer program was started in 1941 by then-Chief William Gabrielson and the Honolulu Police Commission. According to HPD, 150 people applied back then; 124 were accepted.

During the attack on Pearl Harbor in December of that year, the reserves were invaluable in responding to emergencies.

"Historically, they meant a lot to us," Donohue said. "Especially when there's a shortage. These people come out and come through."

A rainbow of representation

HPD's volunteer crime fighters come from all corners of life, which makes it fun and interesting, Trinidad said. Among them are retired police officers, federal employees, wealthy businessmen, flight attendants and radio disc jockeys. There are no women reserve officers, but the department is actively recruiting them.

Reserve officer Robert Elliott is Campbell High School's vice principal.

Elliott, 58, was a building-material salesman when he signed up to become a reserve officer 20 years ago.

"I believe in community service," he said. "People need to help and volunteer in the community and this was an interesting and exciting way to volunteer."

Campbell students know their vice principal moonlights as a cop. But when he's at school, Elliott says he is strictly the vice principal.

"Most of the guys are established in professions," Trinidad said. "They still have their profession and still want to contribute to the community."

Dang summed up why he is a reserve: "I can have the best of both worlds. I really enjoyed being a police officer, sometimes more so than being an attorney. I guess I can say that, having done both jobs."

Requirements for HPD reserves

A Honolulu Police reserve officer applicant must:

Bullet Be at least 25 years old
Bullet Have a high school diploma or a GED equivalent
Bullet Be a Hawaii resident
Bullet Be a U.S. citizen, American national or permanent resident alien
Bullet Have a Hawaii driver's license
Bullet Pass vision and hearing tests
Bullet Attend a two-day per week, 16-month training academy

For an application, call 529-3336.

For more information, visit the Web site,; or contact Sgt. Jay Trinidad at 529-3778.

The application deadline is Friday.

E-mail to City Desk

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