KPD’s Top Cop

Photos by Amanda C. Gregg

After seven years of busting the island’s biggest drug dealers, Ginny Pia is back on patrol – and named KPD’s Officer of the Year.

Kaua‘i Police Department officer Ginny Pia isn’t your average cop. She’s not your average mom, either.

The single-mother of 7-year-old Ty, Pia also has spent the past seven years rappelling from helicopters, busting drug dealers and arresting some of the island’s most egregious criminals. And why not? It makes the island a safer place for her son and other keiki to grow up in.

“Children keep you motivated to do what you’re doing,” she says. “They keep you wanting to make the island a better and safer place for them.”

Pia, named KPD’s officer of the year, spent nearly a decade in the Vice Operations unit working on some of the biggest drug cases Kaua‘i has ever seen in terms of methamphetamine smuggling. It also gained national attention.

Having recently returned to patrol — she worked patrol for three years before getting transferred to Vice — Pia admits she misses some of its thrill. Of course, now that she’s been reassigned and is no longer undercover, she was able to give this interview and give an inside peek into what Vice was like.

Take, for example, what she cites as her most memorable bust — a federal case which, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office was one of three large-scale methamphetamine trafficking cases to develop as a result of a wiretap investigation conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration and KPD. The bust came in July 2007, when Masbasa Ordonez was caught with 94 grams of methamphetamine in her luggage, which was seized by KPD at Lihu‘e Airport. The other two criminal cases involved the transportation and attempted delivery of approximately 6.3 pounds of methamphetamine from Oahu and Sacramento, Calif., to Kaua‘i in 2007. All nine defendants in those two cases eventually pled guilty and were sentenced to more than a combined 70 years imprisonment.

“We did many hours of surveillance all over the island for a couple months at least,” she says. “There were specific targets, including ice houses.”

Part of what made the case memorable was the concurrent takedown — “busting” several houses at the same time and coordinating a covert operation with simultaneous arrests at multiple locations. The teamwork and hours involved also made it memorable for her.

“We were working long days — at one point we worked two weeks straight without days off — but it was for a good reason,” she says of working with the team that included Sgt. Elliott Ke, the case agent at the time.

And to think, Pia returned to Kaua‘i for a life that was slower paced.

“I just wanted to get away from the fast life,” she says. Pia came over for vacation to visit family and decided she was staying.

Born on Kaua‘i, Pia, 38, was raised in California and came back to the Garden Isle in 1993. Her mother, Ginger Kemp, was born and raised California, and still resides there. Her father, Arthur Pia, lives on Oahu.

Her first jobs on-island were working for delivery companies, Universal Delivery and Savage and Sweet, before joining KPD in 2002.

Working Vice brought an interesting set of challenges, but always offered plenty of excitement.

“Who could ask for more? Getting paid to fly in a helicopter looking for plants, seeing this beautiful island from the sky,” she says. “For me, the adrenaline comes from entering a house and going into the unknown.”

It also had its challenges, especially on Kaua‘i, where there is no such thing as anonymity.

“Kaua‘i is such a small community that it’s very difficult to do undercover work,” she says. “The type of work we do here is not like what you see on television. It seems like everyone knows who the police are, so we’re not able to go out and buy drugs from people. When we’re conducting investigations, we try to blend in with the rest of the community while conducting surveillance. We could be parked in your neighborhood watching you or follow you as you drive around the island conducting your illegal activities.

“In such a small community, it’s not easy going unnoticed. It’s satisfying to work with a small group of people and to conduct surveillance on someone for several hours, and that person doesn’t even know that every move they made was observed by the police.”

Pointing out how drugs such as methamphetamine destroy families, Pia explains there’s no such thing as going home after an arrest and feeling good about a suspect being off the streets.

“When you do drug investigations, you see how drugs not only affect the person being arrested but their families,” she says. “It’s never easy taking someone away from their loved ones. Being arrested is never a happy moment for anyone, but for some that is the rock bottom moment they need to change their lives.

“The moments that give me the most satisfaction are when I see someone I arrested come up to me and thank me for helping change their lives — when I see them clean and sober and being the parent their child deserves.”

Being a good parent, of course, rings true for Pia, who has seen her share of children of drug dealers and users living in less than habitable conditions. “It makes me hug my son all the harder when I get home,” she says.

When asked about what got her originally into this line of work, Pia, says “job security,” laughs, then adds, “I’m not one to sit behind a desk. This type of police work gives you a chance to be out of the office environment.”

Assigned to complex illegal drug trafficking investigations working with KPD counterparts at the federal and state levels, Pia served two full-time positions simultaneously: undercover investigator and asset forfeiture sergeant.

Asset forfeiture, according to KPD Chief Darryl Perry, includes confiscating illegal property and cash from drug dealers whose profits were derived from criminal enterprises.

“While I cannot put a numerical value on her contribution to KPD and the community, I can unequivocally say that what she brings to the table is invaluable,” he says.

As for how she explains to her son what her job is, Pia says she doesn’t bring it up on her own, but does say he has upped his curiosity since now she wears a police uniform.

Not only a positive role model for her son, but other keiki as well, Pia has participated in elementary school career days.

A self-proclaimed tomboy (she also played volleyball, basketball and softball in high school), it makes sense that Pia has done so well in a male-dominated career, something she attributes in part to growing up with brothers.

“That definitely played a role in how to defend myself,” she says.

And though it’s commonplace for males to bond, especially in an organization like KPD, Pia doesn’t ask for special treatment.

“All the guys have included me and treated me really well,” she says.

Assistant Chief Roy Asher agrees.

“Ginny works in a male-dominated unit and environment, but she didn’t get fixated on trying to fit in or prove herself,” he says. “She simply did what was asked of her and did it exceptionally well. She asks for no concession or compromise, and allows no gender walls.”

Perry adds that she’s also got a can-do attitude that everyone in the community has benefited from. “Ginny has dedicated herself to keeping Kaua‘i safe from those who wish to harm our way of life through the illicit trafficking of drugs.”

In her free time, she enjoys hiking, going to the beach, riding her bike and, of course, spending time with her son and family.