December 7th, 2005

Busy week, political will and affordable housing, letter to the editor- KPD

Had a busy week. Back is up to about 90% functionality. Have been in Honolulu all week and am off to Maui in the morning, returning to Honolulu on Friday then back to Kauai on Sunday and then back to Honolulu on Monday night. Whew!

This week members of the Senate Ways and Means Committee and House Finance Committees conducted “site visits” to various State facilities; schools, U.H. sports facilities, Waimanalo wastewater treatment plant, irrigation systems and other various locations. The visits are a good opportunity for members to see first hand the condition of various state buildings etc. The committees have conducted similar visits on all islands.

Am travelling to Maui with the joint House/Senate Affordable Housing/Homeless Task Force tomorrow and Friday. We will be visiting various affordable housing projects, meeting with developers and public officials and conducting a public hearing to receive community input. These trips really do provide valuable feedback to the committee members and I feel very confident the legislature will pass meaningful housing legislation in the “06” session.

The big question of course is: “How much money will the legislature be willing to dedicate to the problem?” If it were up to the joint task force members you can be sure the number would be significant. The challenge is to convince the majority that the needs of affordable housing should be right up there with education when it comes to setting priorities that will govern the allocation of resources. I am hopeful and optimistic, but not absolutely certain, that addressing the critical affordable housing shortage will in fact be one of the top two or three “official” legislative priorities in the coming session. If past performance is a predictor of future action, we may not truly know until opening day of the session.

On the Kauai Police issue: The Garden Island newspaper printed my letter in today’s edition but did not include it in the “online edition”. I emailed the “acting editor” today requesting that the please post it online. Until I get it posted so I can provide a link, below is the original version that I submitted. This makes for a long post and I apologize.

The Garden Island
Senator Gary L. Hooser

To the editor:

The Kauai County Council should be congratulated for its recent decision to investigate the operations and management of the Kauai Police Department.

My own recent experience reinforces any doubts I may have had earlier with regards to the shortcomings of the department’s leadership and administration.

On July 7 2005, and again on October 4, I submitted written requests to Chief Lum asking for summary data regarding Kauai crime statistics. In addition, I requested a summary report of a brutal beating that had occurred at Salt Pond Park where there were allegedly numerous witnesses and no arrests. To date, I have received no response whatsoever from Chief Lum or the department; not a courtesy call, not a note, not even an acknowledgement that my request had been received. On November 30, the State Office of Information Practices also sent Chief Lum a fax explaining that he is required by law to respond to my request. Still no response has been forthcoming to my rather basic request for what is public information.

Needless to say, the Chiefs complete lack of response is merely one troubling symptom of a far deeper malady that currently grips our Kauai Police Department, and I am thankful that the Kauai County Council is stepping up to the plate in search of a cure.

The long list of serious and unresolved issues within the Kauai Police Department has led to a dramatic drop in the morale of Kauai’s rank and file police officers and fueled a growing lack of trust among an already cynical public.

I know many K.P.D. officers personally and believe the vast majority strive to be true law enforcement professionals, good people trying their best to do a good job.

Unfortunately numerous incidents and recent challenges demonstrate clearly that the K.P.D. is in a state of upheaval and that the leadership and administration of the department is in serious need of an independent review.

In addition to overspending its overtime budget by some $300,000+, the department has numerous lawsuits pending and mounting complaints from civilians and police officers alike. Several of the lawsuits involve police officers accusing other police officers of corruption and intimidation. There are allegations about the inappropriate use of federal funds. A long time officer and leader in the department was recently suspended, apparently for an incident that allegedly occurred over 5 years ago. To top it all off, unresolved legal issues still remain from the former police chief’s era.

The organization responsible for providing oversight of the police chief and the department is the Kauai Police Commission. There are 5 members appointed by the Mayor and confirmed by the Council. Normally this is the organization that would evaluate the Chiefs performance and recommend changes as needed. Unfortunately the Kauai Police Commission has its own leadership challenges with the Kauai Ethics Commission investigating alleged ethics violations.

The mere presence of an investigation, whether by the Kauai County Council or by the Kauai Ethics Commission, should not cast personal aspersions upon any individuals. It is relatively easy to bring up charges and allege improprieties. People are innocent until proven guilty. However it is the sum total of all that is going on within the Kauai Police Department and the Kauai Police Commission that is extremely troubling and inherently unhealthy for our community.

The situation is serious and the Kauai County Council should be applauded for taking a leadership role in resolving this issue. I am hopeful that Mayor Baptiste will join with the Council in seeking a solution that puts the Kauai Police Department back on track.