Liaison to Big Island Neighborhood Watch program retires

  • KELSEY WALLING/Tribune-Herald Signs for the Hawaii Island Neighborhood Watch are displayed June 16 outside Bobbye St. Ambrogio’s house in Honomu.

  • KELSEY WALLING/Tribune-Herald A shadow box is full of badges and pins that Bobbye St. Ambrogio received from her time in Hawaii.

  • KELSEY WALLING/Tribune-Herald A framed newspaper story featuring Bobbye St. Ambrogio is seen June 16 in her home in Honomu. St. Ambrogio was the chief of the Bergen County, N.J., mounted unit during her time as a police officer.

After six years of service, Bobbye St. Ambrogio retired from her work as the liaison to the Hawaii Island Neighborhood Watch.

Since appointed in 2012, St. Ambrogio assisted the Hawaii Police Department and partnered with the county Office of the Prosecuting Attorney in building the Neighborhood Watch into a successful, productive program.

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Although she planned to retire when she turns 80 in August, St. Ambrogio stepped down a few months early because of health concerns.

“It was so much harder for me to step down than I imagined it would be,” said St. Ambrogio. “I’m a big people person and I have made my life about community policing.”

Before retiring on the Big Island in 2004, St. Ambrogio spent 31 years as a police officer in the sheriff’s department of Bergen County, N.J.

She worked her way into becoming the first female chief of the Community Policing Unit, which helped her understand the necessity of relating to the community.

“Community policing has always been important to me,” St. Ambrogio said. “I’ve always wanted people here and back in New Jersey to understand that police are your neighbors in and out of uniform.”

St. Ambrogio’s perspective is the reason she coined “neighbors helping neighbors” as a slogan for the Hawaii Island Neighborhood Watch.

“Neighborhood watch has never solely been about crime fighting,” St. Ambrogio said. “Our focus has become training volunteers on how to properly identify suspicious activity and how to call it in efficiently.”

St. Ambrogio worked tirelessly to ensure Neighborhood Watch programs would have the tools they need to accurately report what they see.

She applied and received a grant from state Rep. Mark Nakashima that helped fund a training handbook and other equipment for all volunteers.

St. Ambrogio fought for monetary support from the Hawaii County Council, which funded equipment and other tools needed to improve Neighborhood Watch programs around the island.

Since St. Ambrogio began her stint with the Neighborhood Watch, more than 200 programs have become active in the county.

St. Ambrogio led the Puna Watch Program from 2014-16 and was awarded for her efforts in starting numerous programs throughout the county.

“I have traveled all over the island to help communities that were starting programs or needed help with certain training along the way,” she said.

St. Ambrogio led the Puna Neighborhood Watch program with a goal of creating a loop of service with the Community Emergency Response Team and Civil Defense, which proved important for the area.

“The Puna Neighborhood Watch completely transformed into a large communication assistance program during lava flow in 2018,” St. Ambrogio said. “They worked hard the entire time and were able to reach out to whole communities that could have been missed otherwise.”

In her six years of facilitating the Neighborhood Watch program, St. Ambrogio realized the difference between her experience in a large, metro area to the rural policing of Hawaii Island.

“Police have huge districts to cover and it isn’t always easy getting where they need to be on time,” she said. “Neighborhood Watch is a way to help these police in watching over communities and keeping neighbors as safe as possible.”

St. Ambrogio is proud of her work in Hawaii and excited to see how it will progress.

“I have truly enjoyed doing this work and getting to know all the people involved in making these programs successful,” she said. “People are still calling me sometimes because they forget I’m not doing this anymore.”

For now, St. Ambrogio plans to enjoy her life with her dog, Kulani, in Honomu while keeping up with the friendships she made through Neighborhood Watch.

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“In a small town, you get to know everyone and you aren’t just another citizen,” St. Ambrogio said. “The people I have worked with and become friends with will always be my ohana.”

Email Kelsey Walling at kwalling@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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