Hawaiʻi Police Department
Office of the Chief
Chief Harry S. Kubojiri
The Aloha Exchange Club of East Hawaiʻi recognized Sergeant James Correa as “Officer of the Year” and Captain Darwin Okinaka as “Firefighter of the Year” in a dinner ceremony Thursday evening (March 20).
Sergeant Correa, who joined the Police Department in March 1998, is assigned to the South Hilo District, where he heads the Special Enforcement Unit. Captain Okinaka joined the Fire Department in May 2000 and is in charge of the Training Bureau.
During a ceremony at the Hilo Yacht Club, each honoree received a plaque from the Aloha Exchange Club, certificates of commendation from the governor’s office, the mayor’s office, the Legislature and the Hawaiʻi County Council, and a gift basket of donated items and gift certificates.
Correa was honored for his leadership role in capturing two escaped prisoners.
On December 5, 2012, two inmates escaped from Hawaiʻi Community Correctional Center after overpowering and assaulting a correctional officer. In the aftermath of the escape, the Police Department formed two teams, one from each side of the island, to lead an intense man hunt for the fugitives.
Sergeant Correa was assigned to lead the Area I Task Force in East Hawaiʻi, while Sergeant Bradley Freitas was in charge of the Area II Task Force in West Hawaiʻi. The two teams worked together tracking down all leads. Due to their commitment, one prisoner was arrested in Kaʻū two days after the escape. The second was tracked down a week later in Puna.
In nominating Correa for the honor, Captain Robert Wagner said citizens were grateful for the dedication of the task forces members, who worked long hours to protect the safety of the public.
“It can be very stressful to be given the task of apprehending two dangerous escapees, especially when everyone on the island is expecting quick results so their families can return to their normal lifestyle,” Wagner wrote in nomination papers. “There were many officers involved in this manhunt, but the direction, decisions and leadership of both Sergeant Correa and Sergeant Freitas were critical in ensuring both task forces worked together efficiently for their common goal.”
Correa thanked the Exchange Club for the honor but credited everyone involved for the successful outcome. “It’s a team effort,” he said. He also thanked his fiancée for being so understanding about his job responsibilities. “She’s the one who always has to change the schedule,” he said. Correa said his father, retired Chief James Correa, is a constant reminder that he has big shoes to fill.
Assistant Police Chief Henry Tavares said Sergeant Correa was hand-picked to head the Special Enforcement Unit because of his extreme dedication to the department and to serving his community and because of his investigative skills. “Sergeant Correa, you’re doing a fine job of filling those shoes,” he said.
Fire Captain Okinaka was honored for his leadership, attitude and community service. During the past year, he was the core facilitator for Fire Fighter recruits, leading 29 of them to realize their dreams of protecting the community. Okinaka continues to take the lead in assisting with voluntary community service events with the recruits, such as the painting of the NAS pool parking lot, painting of the exhibit structures at the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo, providing first aid service at booths at the Muscular Dystrophy walk and American Cancer Society Relay for Life, as well as being an integral part of the planning and operations team for the annual Hawaiʻi Fire Department’s EMS Week Festivities and Fire Prevention Week events.
Fire Chief Darren Rosario said in a written summary that Okinaka has been known as “the Fire Fighter’s Fire Fighter” since he first joined the Fire Department. “He could be counted on to help with anything anyone needed at work,” Rosario said. “Throughout his career, his work ethic always exemplified the core values of our department: integrity, pride, commitment to service, safety and teamwork.”
In accepting his award, Okinaka said he remembers seeing a “Firefighter of the Year” award for his father when he was a boy. “I was proud of him,” he said, adding that he never thought he would earn the same distinction. “Thank you, Chief Rosario, for believing in me,” he said. He also thanked his assistant chief for his guidance and his wife for her support.
The “Officer of the Year” and “Fire Fighter of the Year” awards are projects of the Aloha Exchange Club of East Hawaiʻi.