Maui police release body worn camera footage from Aug. 8 wildfires

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Disclaimer: GRAPHIC CONTENT (contains profanity)

Kanakea Loop at 4:43 p.m. on Aug. 8, 2023. PC: Maui Police Department (8.8.23)

Maui police released body camera footage from the three wildfires that occurred on Maui in Lahaina, Kula and Kīhei on Aug. 8, 2023. The approximate 16 minutes of footage is just a portion of the 20 hours of video taken during police response to the wildfires.

Police say the footage shows areas where officers responded, and the conditions that officers and residents endured.

The public is advised that the video contains graphic content and profanity. “When encountered by life or death situations, profanity can be expressed as an emotional response, which is a reality of police work,” said Keola Tom, Assistant Chief of Uniformed Services. “You will see how officers did their best to save lives and property when surrounded by the oncoming fires. What you will also see is officers who lived in Lahaina respond on their days off to help. One officer who was working and lived in Lahaina, couldn’t check on his own family to include his newborn baby. He did not know if they got to safety as he was helping other families evacuate.”

Video with police commentary. Video Disclaimer: GRAPHIC CONTENT (contains profanity)

At the start of the afternoon fire in Lahaina, police say there were 13 officers in the Lahaina District, including a captain, a lieutenant and a supervisor. A number of officers were also called in to assist with poles falling down.

“At the height of it, we ended up having about 38 officers in the district later on that night,” said Sergeant Chase Bell who is tasked with preparing the department’s after action report.


On a normal day, Bell said there are about five officers on beat patrol in addition to a sergeant, lieutenant and a captain that are at the station. There’s also specialized unit officers, bringing the total to around 10 or 11 on a normal shift. “Everyone that was working the night prior, they got sent home at about 9-10 a.m., and got recalled back at about 3 p.m.,” said Sgt. Bell.

Keola Tom, Assistant Chief of Uniformed Services (middle); and Sergeant Chase Bell (right) PC: MPD. (10.30.23)

“What is not said is of the 13 Maui Police Department officers and staff members that work and live in Lahaina—11 of them lost everything, to include family members and their homes. We can’t forget our officer who lived in Kula and lost his cottage and had his house burned by the Kula fire,” said AC Tom. “So, to say that the Maui Police Department did not do their due diligence to save lives is false.”

“This is not just pulling off a Band-Aid, but this is ripping open a deep wound for this entire community,” said Maui Police Chief John Pelletier during an afternoon press conference held Monday at the Wailuku Police Station. “It’s not lost on us. I think what’s really something to note is why are we doing this—why are we setting this up.”

Chief Pelletier explained that the footage was due to come out following a UIPA or Uniform Information Practices Act request. “We thought we had an obligation to this community that we would give some context to some of the videos they would see,” said Chief Pelletier. “For us to release all of that and not tell this tale, would not be right… We are sorry for all of those who suffered and lost. There is a lot to unpack with what you just saw.”

Chief Pelletier said that officers were working to save lives throughout the day. “You saw officers going into houses and getting people out of harm’s way. You saw evacuations being done a little bit after 3 o’clock that same day… You saw officers with their bodies smash gates. You saw people do everything they could… MPD did that because it was the right thing to do; because that’s what they’re trained to do,” he said.

Multiple people were evacuated by police from The Coffee Bean, makai of Foodland near Front Street at 6:42 p.m. on Aug. 8, 2023. PC: Maui Police Department (8.8.23)

When asked if there were any lessons learned from the footage or areas for improvement, Chief Pelletier said the department is looking at equipment and policies. He said under current policy, officers begin activation of their body cameras upon arrival on scene. The department is looking at changing that so officers turn on their camera earlier, once dispatches, to improve transparency.

“We are continually looking, we are jotting down what went right, what went wrong, and how can we get better,” said Chief Pelletier.

According to authorities, the after action review started about eight weeks ago. Chief Pelletier said a preliminary after action report would come about six months after the incident, and a final report is expected in approximately 18-24 months from now.

Police said the after action report will contain both a patrol and investigative component, as well as input from the Morgue Identification Notification Task Force and the data collected through the body worn cameras.

“I can assure you this: It’s going to be shared with the entire law enforcement community nationally and internationally, and it will hold muster and will be presented in such a way that it reflects the entire incident as well as lessons learned,” said Chief Pelletier.

Maui Police Chief John Pelletier. PC: MPD. (10.30.23)

He also reference 21st Century Policing and its six pillars that include trust and transparency as well as wellness.

“I would liken it to six legs of a table. To me, that one particular pillar seems to be ignored a lot,” Chief Pelletier said of wellness. “We talk about these other pillars. Right from wrong is important, but this one here is key because that’s our people. That’s their families. It’s not just telling them you love them, it’s showing you love them. And so, what we are committed to do here is to make sure that we have the most comprehensive wellness program possible. We didn’t just start this on the 8th of August of 2023.”

The department also has an existing chaplain program and a psychologist that monitors employees. Later this month the Bureau of Justice Administration will share their Valor Initiative, a government offered program aimed at supporting the wellness of employees.

“There’s been multiple narratives about what took place on the day of those fires. This body worn camera footage makes it very clear and convincing that the Maui Police Department—the men and women of MPD—went above and beyond, and their actions reflect the finest tradition of this noble profession,” said Chief Pelletier.

Wendy Osher
Wendy Osher leads the Maui Now news team. She is also the news voice of parent company, Pacific Media Group, having served more than 20 years as News Director for the company’s six Maui radio stations.
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