Hawaiʻi County’s new police chief worked on state’s new tougher DUI law
Benjamin T. Moszkowicz sat in his new office in Hilo on Thursday. A year-long calendar was on the wall, with nothing written on it. The top of his big brown desk was empty, except for a box to hold papers.
This is the cleanest this desk will ever be, he said.
Hawai’i County’s new 46-year-old police chief takes over the department on Jan. 17 with a slate as clean as his desk.
Moszkowicz, a 22-year veteran with the rank of major at the Honolulu Police Department, is an outsider. He was selected by the Hawai‘i County Police Commission in December from a pool of 44 applicants. Of the four finalists, he was the only one without law enforcement ties to the Big Island.
Coming into the department as an outsider, he bring no internal baggage to the job. But he knows it’s going to take time to build trust, and he’s not going to establish himself from inside his office.
“I don’t know the vast majority of the department,” he said. “I don’t think anyone is going to trust me on the basis of someone else’s word. As cops, we’re already suspicious of people in the first place. I need to get out and spend time with people in the field, if for no other reason than to meet them. With that, trust starts to form and leadership kicks in.”
So who is Moszkowicz?
Growing up, he said he never thought about being a police officer: “When we’d play cops and robbers, I’d be the fireman or something else.”
In college in Toledo, Ohio, he initially wanted to be a physical therapist.
“The job made sense to me. I was kind of good at science kind of things; it seemed like a nice paying job,” he said.
However, after doing related internships he quickly learned he hated the profession, saying: “It wasn’t what I thought it was.”
Living in Toledo, Ohio at the time, Moszkowicz was working as a bookkeeper at a retail pharmacy store while attending college. A special duty police officer who worked at the store enticed him to go on a ride-along.
“I loved it,” he said. “You never knew what was gonna come next. It was very exciting and at the same time, this is gonna sound corny, but it’s true, you get to help people.”
After his dad, who was in the U.S. Navy, got new orders to work in Hawai’i, Moszkowicz gladly followed. He changed his major and graduated from University of Hawaiʻi at West Oʻahu with a degree in justice administration. After graduating, applying to the Honolulu Police Department was his logical next step.
“I joined the police department when I was 24,” Moszkowicz said. “Since joining in 2000, I’ve never doubted it or second-guessed the decision.”
Over the years, Moszkowicz has established himself to be a creative and inspiring leader.
“He’s the kind of guy who’s already doing his homework and is intellectually and emotionally invested in whatever project or job he’s involved in,” said Honolulu Police Capt. James Slayter, a friend and former co-worker. “He’s always been passionate about keeping our roads safe.”
Maj. Moszkowicz established himself as an expert dealing with impaired drivers during his years in the department’s Traffic Division.
Slayter recalled being transferred to Traffic after working as a detective. He thought the work would be boring, but Moszkowicz got him passionate about it.
“His leadership is very infectious and he gets people to jump on board,” Slayter said.
And it doesn’t matter what department he’s working in. When he worked in Information Technology, Slayter said the department’s equipment started working and they were getting upgrades.
“I think there are a lot of good men and women who work for Hawaiʻi Police Department, they just need someone like Ben,” Slayter said. “I think there may be reluctance, but you won’t even notice he’s not from there. He’ll assimilate into the community. It’s amazing how he moves not just people, but departments and divisions forward.”
Moszkowicz’s work in the Traffic Division has had long-reaching impacts. Heʻs been able to work on laws related to impaired driving.
While not personally impacted by an impaired driving crash, Moszkowicz has been to police officers’ funerals where they were killed by a driver who was drunk or impaired by other substances.
“I’ve responded to collisions and seen bodies of people and children who were killed by impaired drivers,” he said. “To see those devastating effects first hand really left an impression on me. I learned early on that impaired driving is just a scourge.”
Moszkowicz is proud of working on legislation that redefines substances that can cause impairment, including those that may not be listed as an illicit drug, like kava (a depressant drug), muscle relaxers or synthetic chemicals.
Moszkowicz said he pushed four or five sessions in a row before that law, now HB 2337 was passed in January 2022.
In 2019, Mothers Against Drunk Driving Hawaiʻi and Toyota honored then Capt. Moszkowicz with their inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award.
Moszkowicz showed his ability to lead the Honolulu Police Department when he helped with the planning and security of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, when it came to O‘ahu in 2011.
The primary goal of the summit is to support sustainable economic growth and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region. President Barack Obama was a speaker at the event.
Slayter said Moszkowicz, who was a sergeant at the time, nearly single-handedly came up with a schedule for all 2,000 Honolulu police officers who were required to assist at the conference and maintain normal day-to-day operations.
“He balanced the workload in a way so it didn’t impact the community,” Slayter said. “He was able to find a way it went off without a hitch. Everyone was blown away by this sergeant.”
Outside of law enforcement, Slayter said, Moszkowicz is dedicated to the community and has been an integral part of Hawaiʻi Special Olympics for years.
Kurt Kendro, retired Honolulu Police Department major and Special Olympics Torch Run volunteer since 1986, said he first met Moszkowicz at a Special Olympics conference several years ago.
“The first thing I recognized was he’s a smart guy,” Kendro said. “He brought a fresh perspective and never stood still for the status quo.”
Kendro said Moszkowicz brought his computer skills and insight to the organization that allowed them to modernize the Special Olympics online platforms and ultimately raise more money for athletes.
It wasn’t long before Moszkowicz became a certified coach and was working side-by-side with the athletes.
“He’s compassionate and understands about people,” Kendro said.
Moszkowicz also was one of four finalists for police chief of Honolulu Police Department, the state’s largest law enforcement department. In May 2022, the Honolulu Police Commission unanimously selected Arthur “Joe” Logan, a retired major general with the military, former Honolulu police officer and investigator with the Hawaiʻi Attorney General’s Office.
“I think the Honolulu Police Department lost out when they didn’t select [Moszkowicz],” Kendro said. “Our loss is the Big Island’s gain. He’ll do great things there. I’m excited to watch.”
Moszkowicz felt he outgrew the space he was allotted in Honolulu and wanted to take on a new challenge with the Hawaiʻi County Police Department.
When he submitted his application with 43 other people for Hawai‘i County Police chief to replace Paul Ferreira, who retired in September, Moczkowicz did not believe he’d be selected since he didn’t have roots on the Big Island. After applying for chief in Honolulu, he learned the process was much more subjective than objective.
The candidates views, vision, personality and opinions, Moczkowicz said, are more important than a test. It’s about the fit.
“If the commission and chief are not aligned,” Moszkowicz said “they will but heads and no one will be successful.”
Moszkowicz was chosen over three other finalists:
- Edward Ignacio – Retired Senior Resident Agent for the FBI and former officer at the Hawaiʻi Police Department and Honolulu Police Department.
- Paul Applegate – Acting Assistant Chief, Patrol Services Bureau at the Kauaʻi Police Department
- Sherry Bird – Police Major, Area II Field Operations Bureau, at the Hawaiʻi Police Department.
Several officers past and present had expressed that the department was in need of fresh leadership.
“The people of the Big Island, they want someone who can move the department forward,” Kendro said. “It’s not going to be without strife and challenges. He’s an outsider coming in and I’m hoping they’ll support him.
Moszkowicz’s integrity, Kendro added, is beyond reproach.
“He won’t stand for unethical or illegal behavior,” he said. “He only expects the very best out of his team to do their job.”
A little over a week away from taking over as Hawai‘i County Chief of Police, Moszkowicz was house-hunting with a real estate agent in East Hawaiʻi. He needs a place big enough for his wife and two boys, aged 12 and 14.
He has been bringing his family to the Big Island for years to see his wifeʻs parents, who also live in East Hawaiʻi. So he’s fairly comfortable with the area geographically, but admits he has a lot of anxiety for his first day as chief.
“I know I have the skills and the communication ability, I know I can do this job and I’m confident that I’ll do a great job,” he said. “The anxiety is, I haven’t met everybody yet. It’s that nervous first day jitters kind of stuff that’s keeping me up at night.”
However, Moszkowicz is sure that once he gets to the Hilo station on Jan. 17, he will make 450 new friends.
Once the anxiety goes away, the soon-to-be chief said it will be a chance to do his thing: “Which is be Chief Ben, to help solve problems and get them what they need to serve the community.”