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Police captain joined the force on a dare and found success

After 27 years the woman who was known as the face of CrimeStoppers retires

By Gordon Y.K. Pang

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 11:50 p.m. HST, Jul 09, 2010



CORRECTION

Letha DeCaires was a captain when she retired from the Honolulu Police Department last week. A Page A21 article on Friday, July 9 reported she was a major.

 

Letha DeCaires, the well-known face of the CrimeStoppers program on Oahu, became a Honolulu police officer on a challenge.

Then-police officer Clinton Park, boyfriend of one of DeCaires' friends, dared her to apply to become a police recruit. "He said, 'You could never get in.' I said, 'If they took you, they'd take anybody.' And the bet was on."

Nearly three decades later, police Capt. Letha DeCaires retired from the department last week after a 27-year career, saying "it's just time to go."

The Minnesota native was an elementary school teacher when she arrived in Hawaii with her first husband, a Marine stationed at Kaneohe. The two divorced before she became a police officer.

As she began the process cadets go through to become a police officer, "Once I started getting into it, I realized it was something I was destined to do," DeCaires said.

Reflecting on her career during an interview with the Star-Advertiser, DeCaires said the qualities schoolteachers use are the same police officers employ.

"I'm still a teacher, I'm a social worker with a gun," DeCaires said. "I'm still doing very similar things. We have outreach programs."

She spent 15 years in the Criminal Investigations Division, including the seven years from 1998 to 2005 as coordinator of the CrimeStoppers program. The program encourages people to help police by coming forward with information on crimes.

DeCaires said she was taught early in her career that being a police officer was a serious responsibility and not something to be taken lightly. Veteran police officers would say, "This is a small island. You make sure you treat everyone with dignity because they're all going to get out. And we should be doing that anyway, respecting everybody's rights and privileges."

For a time, DeCaires was a lieutenant in the Communication Division, where she helped obtain grant money to pay for the enhanced wireless 911 system that allows police to identify the location of a caller by tracking cell phones.

As HPD's legislative liaison, DeCaires helped lobby for passage of a law banning assault weapons as well as stiffer harassment-by-stalking laws. She also laid the groundwork for legislation that allows the counties to enact stricter fireworks regulations.

When DeCaires first entered the force, there were fewer than three dozen female police officers. Today there are more than 200. That represents about 11 percent of HPD's sworn officers (the national average is 12.5 percent).

"We're still below the average but we're making inroads on that," she said. However, "We still don't see a lot of women in command positions."

Former Police Chief Boisse Correa said DeCaires' biggest strength might be her integrity. He said he did not always see eye to eye with DeCaires but said "she knew right from wrong, and you knew you could trust her."

DeCaires' other strengths have been her compassion and dedication to public service and her empathy toward those she comes in contact with, Correa said. "She really walks in the shoes of the victim and the community."

What is DeCaires going to do now? She said she'd like to do something "that's of service to the community."

Meantime, she will go back to coaching youth soccer and will have some extra time to spend with her husband and seven children—three of them stepchildren, two of them biological and two of them adopted—and four grandchildren.

"It's been a great adventure," she said.






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