KAILUA-KONA — Cattle ranchers want more police hired to patrol Ka‘u, but for Mayor Harry Kim and the Hawaii Police Department consider that request a non-starter.
Police and ranchers convened at Kim’s office Thursday morning to discuss a protracted problem that only recently became public knowledge — the killing of cows across the region, specifically in Naalehu, for no apparent reason beyond an expression of random violence.
“We wanted at least another one or two police officers out there, but the mayor said he has a budget and he doesn’t have the money to send any more officers,” said Armando Rodriguez, a rancher and farmer in Naalehu.
While Rodriguez and his counterparts were disappointed by the news, Kim said the gathering still proved productive. The parties outlined realities, exchanged ideas and reached understandings. These outcomes, the mayor explained, are paramount to fixing a problem that must rely on communication rather than money to find resolution.
“I really do encourage this kind of meeting, and this is why I invite the police,” Kim said. “So they can meet each other face-to-face and know each other as people. I’ve always found that to be very positive.”
The mayor explained bluntly the county has no money to hire more officers. Maj. Robert Wagner, who attended the meeting, added that even if the department had the resources to hire more cops, they’d be headed elsewhere.
“There’s a method to the madness here,” Wagner said. “As a police force, you direct your personnel to where the crime is being committed the worst. Right now, it’s not in Ka‘u in the backwoods there … but (the cattle killings) are something we need to address.”
Wagner, like Mayor Kim, stressed relationship building as key — both between ranchers and police, as well as between ranchers and their neighbors, if an effective deterrent is to be found.
The main message Wagner and Capt. Kenneth Quiocho, who is stationed in the Ka‘u District and also attended Thursday’s meeting, want to convey is that reporting all crimes and suspicious activity is necessary to rein in the cattle slayings.
“The police actually need the assistance of the public in order to get our job done,” Wagner said. “Give us a chance to look into it. We do catch people, but we don’t catch a lot of them when you’re talking about an area that’s so remote.”
Several ranchers said they stopped reporting most incidents, displeased that police made no arrests and believing that filing reports wasn’t worth the time.
One adjustment police have made since ranchers began speaking up again in late November is to emphasize to officers that a greater patrol presence is necessary on Kaalaiki Road, also referred to as the Old Sugar Cane Road, off of which many of the slayings have occurred.
“The more important part about all this is to make sure we’re patrolling that area so these people will feel we go up there and it’s not as easy pickings as they think it is,” Wagner said.
Beyond utilizing the resources available in the region to the most effective ends, suggestions from the mayor and police alike were that ranchers band together to create community watch programs.
Rodriguez said that while the solutions offered weren’t perfect, but he said he left Thursday’s meeting believing he and his counterparts had been heard and taken seriously.
“The only choice we have right now is to work together with the police and see if we see any changes or improvements,” he said. “We want to give them a chance.”