Labor Day weekend is rapidly approaching and with it comes, for most of us, three days of family fun which includes camping and picnics.
If you’re headed out to do some grocery shopping at any of the islands Safeway Stores be sure to look to the roof tops as you’ll see some of the Big Island’s finest soliciting donations for Special Olympics.
The “Cop On Top” event will be taking place and one of those cops will be Captain James O’Connor. “All the participating Hawaii County Police officers in Hilo and Kona have a great time and one important aspect is that we get to interact with the community in a fun and positive way,” he said.
O’Connor is one heck of an athlete himself, growing up in Lake Worth, Florida, O’Connor was indoctrinated into baseball at an early age by his father.
“My dad was a fireman and he started playing catch and doing batting practice with me since I was in kindergarten,” O’Connor said.
“With my dad it was all about baseball. He was an assistant coach on most, if not all, the teams I played on.”
O’Connor went on to play baseball and, because of his size, basketball in high school that eventually led to him receiving a basketball scholarship to play for Eckerd College in St. Petersberg, Florida.
After one year at Eckerd, O’Connor decided to move to Hilo and become a walk on for Bob Wilson and the Vulcans.
“I came to Hilo in 1987 after playing a year at Eckerd College. I was surfing since the age of 14 and thought it would be great to go to college in Hawaii and surf too. I saw a picture of Hapuna Beach on the UH-Hilo brochure and it looked good to me. I found out later that Hapuna is over 60 miles away,” O’Connor said.
O’Connor had planned to attend either UH Manoa or a California school after graduating from Hilo with an economics degree. “My goal was to become an Economics Professor, but while attending Hilo I met and later married my wife (1993). She pretty much refused to leave the Big Island. So I joined the police department and never looked back,” he said.
Today O’Connor continues to stay in great physical shape by doing a variety of activities which include running, weight lifting, basketball, stand up paddle boarding, cycling, canoe paddling and surfing.
O’Connor will leave his home every morning at 4:45 to stretch with Sodie Kabalis. After that, on mostly Mondays and Thursdays, he will go for a two and a half mile run with retired assistant Police Chief Elroy Osorio, Jr. Other days he will go for a run with Kabalis or surf, depending on how the waves are.
“I meet up with Sodie four or five times a week to get in a good stretch and if Honoli’i or Bay Front is breaking, I’ll surf before I head off to work. On the weekends, I’ll do a five mile run with Sodie, if he is available.”
Besides surfing with Kabalis, O’Connor will meet up at sunrise with other surfers, Sonny Hong, Adam Kay, Lester Bondallian and Jerry Bell. “Other current and retired policemen like Mitch Kanehailua, Charlie Chai, and Ben Bolos are regulars. And, of course, we’re sometimes joined by the Mayor himself, Billy Kenoi.”
Over his 16 year career with the County Police Department, O’Connor has worked in Waimea, Hilo, Honokaa, Kona and Ka’u. He has worked his way up the ranks from a patrol officer and sergeant, a detective in Internal Affairs, a lieutenant in Hilo patrol and the department’s Record and ID section, was the tactical commander of the Special Response Team, captain of the Ka’u District and currently is head of the Criminal Intelligence and Internal Affairs units.
A few years ago O’Connor was selected to represent the department at the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Virginia for a rigorous three month academic and physical training.
O’Connor also returned to school to complete a degree in Administration of Justice at UHH and serves as a leading role model for the department and the community at large.
Even with his busy life O’Connor finds the time for his wife and children. “Jim is a very supportive dad to both of our kids and keeps them on track with their paddling, volleyball, school activities as well as yard work at home,” said wife, Desiree Cruz O’Connor.
“He is a big, strong, smart guy who is incredibly patient, fun and loving with his children and me,” she said.
O’Connor’s father died when he was just ten years old, but remains as his biggest hero and inspiration. “Part of my husband’s drive to be fit and strong comes from his great loss,” Desiree said.
So, this weekend, if you’re in the neighborhood of a Safeway, be sure to look to the roof and say thank you to the men and women in blue that serve and protect our county. And if you have a few dollars to spare remember to give to a great cause, Hawaii’s Special Olympics.
“The Cop on Top event is in its sixth year and we all look forward to participating. Over the years I really cherish the time I get to spend with the athletes, their families and various community groups that assist in collecting the donations on the ground level. And of course to spend some time out of the water with fellow surfer Lebert Pascua and his son Jason, who just so happens to be featured on the Special Olympics poster this year,” O’Connor said.