Their presence isn’t always welcomed, and they tend to be taken for granted. From guarding our community to apprehending those accused of wrongdoing, Hawaii Police Department officers often risk their lives to keep the public safe.
Wednes-day, the community honored those sworn to protect and serve.
During a special luncheon hosted by the Kona Crime Prevention Committee, gratitude was repeatedly expressed to 11 Kona police officers who have performed exemplary work from July 2012 to June 2013. The honorees were Jason Foxworthy, Justin Gaspar, Jeremy Riddle, Jason Hamada, Randy Morris, Nicholas McDaniel, Branden Watanabe, Brant Powers, Stephen Kishimoto, Tyler Prokopec and Dwayne Sluss.
All were previously named officers of the month by the committee. The reasoning behind their recognition was shared, often with the recounting of made-for-television-drama-like incidents or peppered with humor from the committee’s directors Shery Henderson and Dave Wagner. Their quick actions, intuition, perseverance and leadership earned these police officers a standing ovation from the audience inside King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel.
Earle Marsh, the committee’s president, explained how difficult it was for the board members and directors to choose the Kona Officer of the Year. Besides their outstanding work, the committee also considered the officers’ community involvement and “the kind of person (they) are yearlong,” Marsh said. He then displayed his fingers in a pinch, showing the difference between the candidates and the winner.
Over the past 42 years, the committee has donated more than $100,000 in cash, goods and services to police officers in the Kona District.
Assistant Chief Paul Kealoha told all of the candidates they were worthy of the coveted title and thanked them for doing the best police service possible.
He also thanked the officers’ loved ones for their constant support.
With great pride, Kealoha announced the committee’s selection.
Randy Morris, a 13-year member of the Police Department, was named the 2013 Kona Officer of the Year.
He received various gift certificates to restaurants and businesses, along with other goodies.
Morris is the West Hawaii Police Athletics League organizer. He also works with Kona Juvenile Aid Section and the IMPACT program, which educates teens about their decisions, choices and consequences. Morris was named the Officer of the Month in December 2012 for catching an escapee, which resulted in a decrease in residential burglaries in Kona.
In August and September 2012, there were 44 reported residential burglaries in Kona.
During this time, the Special Enforcement Unit and Kona Narcotics Division created a task force to locate burglary suspects — 15 were identified. Although Morris was not assigned to the task force, he took it upon himself to be aware of the situation and knowledgeable of suspects’ faces.
While on his day off and pulling into a gas station, Morris recognized 31-year-old suspect Ryan Jeffries-Hamar, an escapee from Hawaii Community Correctional Center, putting gas in his vehicle. Morris immediately put on his duty belt and confronted the suspect. Jeffries-Hamar, considered armed and dangerous according to the Police Department, ran away. Without hesitation, Morris followed and apprehended the suspect after a 50-yard foot chase.
Through continued investigation, and with the assistance from the Criminal Investigations Section, Morris spearheaded the recovery of 22 stolen items, valued at more than $4,000. With the burglar caught, the number of reported residential burglaries in Kona decreased by 90 percent.
“His actions are a testament to his dedication to duty and community,” according to his nomination.
Upon being named Kona Officer of the Year, Morris reacted with one word: “Wow!” He shared his love of his profession, as well as acknowledged his hardworking colleagues and supportive bosses.
He said the Kona Crime Prevention Committee was “awesome” for recognizing police officers annually and letting the public know about the good work the department does.
He also thanked God and his wife, Allyson Yamagata-Morris.
Morris offered a slightly different account of how he caught the escapee last fall, giving his wife credit.
He had shown the suspects’ photos to his wife and she spotted Jeffries-Hamar first, as well as called 911.
The couple was described as “Batman and Robin,” with Yamagata-Morris being the main superhero and Morris the sidekick.
For Morris, the incident reminded him a lot of his childhood days of playing “cops and robbers.” Following the ceremony, Yamagata-Morris said she was “super proud” and “so happy” for her husband.