Police chief says proposed budget lacks funding to reinforce Puna, Ka‘u districts

  • POLICE CHIEF PAUL FERREIRA

Police Chief Paul Ferreira said one of the most pressing priorities and toughest challenges the Hawaii Police Department faces is seeking additional officer positions and recruiting to fill existing officer vacancies.

In a conversation last month with the Tribune-Herald, the Big Island’s top cop acknowledged the need for more officers. The preliminary fiscal year 2018-19 budget proposal of $515.7 million submitted March 1 to the County Council by Mayor Harry Kim doesn’t provide additional uniformed personnel, however.

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If approved as is for police funding, the budget will provide the department $67,453,170 for July 1, 2018, to June 30, 2019. Of that money, $65,764,820 will come from the county’s general fund, financing 733 officer and civilian positions. That number is about $2 million above the current fiscal year’s police budget of $65,529.60. The fiscal year 2016-17 budget was $62,288,018.46.

“We’ve been operating for years with a status quo budget. People can promise us, ‘Oh, we’re going to give you 60 more officers,’ but somebody’s gotta pay for it,” Ferreira said. “Our staffing hasn’t increased; right now we’re at 450 sworn (officers). But at the end of 2017, we were 34 officers short. We had 34 vacancies. Right now, we have a recruit class in session with 20 officers, and we have another hire we’re looking forward to in April that we’re going to pick up another eight to 10 to make up the deficit. But it takes us nine months from the time someone is hired until the time they hit the streets. That’s how long the training is.

“And, in this day and age, one of the challenges we’re facing is, especially this year, as the economy gets better, nobody wants to be a police officer. They’d rather be in construction or other jobs that pay just as much and don’t have the challenges that being an officer does. So when the economy gets good, recruitment falls. When the private sector economy is good, the public sector suffers.”

The budget proposal doesn’t provide seven supervisory positions requested by police, nor does it fund five additional officers each for the growing Puna and Ka‘u districts, which comes out to an additional patrol officer per watch.

“The Police Department’s goal to protect life and property and serve the community cannot fully be met” without the requested personnel increases, states the mayor’s budget message to the Hawaii County Council at the beginning of the budget document.

“I’ll put it this way. I get a lot of hard meetings that you got to say ‘no’ or ‘cannot’ for whatever reason,” Kim said. “You can call every department head and they all got the same instructions. It would be foolhardy for me as mayor for me to determine what is priority within your department. … But the spending message to all is there will be no increase of any kind for any department, and you will have to cut X amount from your department. … After the second cut was made, we’re still $7 million short. … The point of emphasis here is, all the review by us is a general overview, but the specific cuts (are) made by the department heads themselves, in this case the police chief.”

Kim said his orders to department heads to trim from what started as a status quo budget are motivated largely by forces beyond his control.

Salaries and benefits to employees, mostly negotiated at the state level, are adding $12.7 million to be shouldered by taxpayers. County contributions to the employee pension plan total $4.4 million, with other post-retirement benefits adding an additional $5.9 million. An additional $1.5 million in raises recently were awarded to top officials by the Salary Commission. Debt payments by the county will total $49 million.

The mayor added he knows the problems faced by Puna and Ka‘u and is not unsympathetic to the plight of rural district residents.

“Ka‘u is one of the fastest growing districts on the island; the fastest is Puna,” Kim said. “Ka‘u is growing because of Hawaiian Ocean View Estates and that area becoming the bedroom community of Kona, which is very surprising to people. When you tell them ‘no’ and you tell them why — and the responsibility is mine — you’re the one that’s saying ‘no,’ not the chief of police. Because I made a policy (of) no increase in personnel. And it’s not easy. But that’s the blanket that went to every district, not just Ka‘u.”

The preliminary budget proposal is in the hands of the County Council, which has departmental reviews scheduled for April 17-19. Department heads, including the police chief, will have another opportunity at that point to highlight their priorities.

“I know we need officers in the field, but one of our challenges is, we lack field supervisors, sergeants in the field. That has been identified,” Ferreira said. “One of our priorities in this budget cycle is looking for more sergeants, looking for patrol supervisors. Additionally, we’re asking for patrol officers for Puna and Ka‘u. Whether that’s going to come to life, I don’t know. People ask, ‘Well, just give us one more officer.’ Giving you one more officer is not going to make any difference. It takes five more officers in the district to make sure that we have one covering each shift because of days off and vacations.

“… So when we’re asking for more officers for Ka‘u or for Puna, we ask in increments of five. On the other hand, when we ask for a sergeant out there, that’s another body on the watch, we’re increasing numbers out there. Because some of our shifts have no supervisors in some of the smaller districts — Ka‘u, North Hilo, Hamakua, North Kohala. So by adding another sergeant, we’re adding another body on the watch. It’s a supervisory position but it’s another officer on the road.”

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The mayor’s final proposed budget will be released by May 5. Once amended and passed by the council, it goes into effect July 1.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

  1. Scooby April 1, 2018 7:42 am

    Politics begin! Don’t believe a word the Chief says, this is part of Harry Kim’s plan to raise the GET tax, Use the police and public safety as pressure to raise the GET. Next you’ll hear Harry saying he can only free up general funds if the GET tax is raised and only then will he be able to fund public safety. More lies from your Mayor.


    1. Steve Dearing April 1, 2018 9:52 am

      And Lying Harry says he is not unsympathetic to the problems his profound over tax and over spend a agenda that is not only making matters worse it is perpetuating the grinding poverty in Puna. Face it, the demo rats unsustainable agenda creates an abundance of criminal activity and creates the need for effective law enforcement to protect the public. Elmenate the demo rats stuck on stupid agenda and reduce the need for additional officers but since hell will freeze over first the current need for more officers in Puna is real.


    2. Realitystrikes96778 April 1, 2018 3:18 pm

      You are correct. This a classic political ploy. The politicians spend on themselves, squander the money on useless programs frequently calculated to get money into the hand of their pals, and waste the rest on inefficient services that could be performed by the private sector for 10-30% of what it costs using government employee and THEN they tell us we need to raise taxes for public safety, education, and road maintenance. Those are the things that should be getting taken care of first with the taxes we already pay, but the sheeple will approve additional taxes because we need public safety, education, and road maintenance. This is a scam that started with the founding of the nation. When will we ever learn?


  2. Benny HaHa April 1, 2018 10:17 am

    “When the private sector economy is good, the public sector suffers.” Really? This is the Hawaii mindset, and until it changes we are stuck. Potential officers want to work construction instead. No pensions but higher immediate pay. How about tapering off the public pensions over several years? Much more money to hire & pay officers. Nobody in the private sector gets pensions anymore. Everyone needs to plan for their own retirement. Why is this never part of the conversation? Our whole budget model here with “collective bargaining” ultimately in charge of public pay up and down all positions is not sustainable. We’re getting a raw deal folks!


    1. Realitystrikes96778 April 1, 2018 3:31 pm

      Politicians love pensions. They can spend irresponsibly and by the time someone notices, the politicians responsible are dead or enjoying their own lavish pensions. Public pensions need to be investigated and substantially revised. Nobody should be drawing a pension (other than for disability) before age 65. Public pensions should not pay out more than 40% of the employees high 5. They get social security. That should be enough for anybody.


  3. Sara Steiner-jackson April 1, 2018 11:30 am

    Puna and Kau have a third of the population but Hilo and Kona have three times as many police officers each.

    It is not rocket science, Until you get the moolah, RE-ASSIGN HILO AND KONA OFFICERS TO PUNA AND KAU.


    1. naeporue April 1, 2018 12:01 pm

      Divide them according to the number of shootings.


      1. Sara Steiner-jackson April 1, 2018 4:37 pm

        You mean police shootings?


  4. Russell G April 1, 2018 12:06 pm

    A mayor and his cabinet disagreeing in the newspaper can only mean one of two thing: a mayor that has no grip of managing his county, or a choreographed ploy to justify higher taxes. Might be both in this case.


  5. Realitystrikes96778 April 1, 2018 3:25 pm

    My local elected officials are telling me that crime is down all over the island. We don’t need more police officers. We need less police officers behind desks and better allocation of the police officers already in uniform. Ferreira is just empire building. And, btw, it would also help if our prosecutors and judges built upon the fine work of the police by putting the criminals in jail. If it takes 1 cop to arrest a criminal one time; it take 15 cops to arrest the same criminal 15 times. Can you see how it might be efficient to just keep the criminal in jail for as long as possible to minimize the imposition on police resources?


  6. volcanovillage April 2, 2018 9:27 am

    Perhaps if the already known and apprehended meth heads were made to do hard time they would not be constantly recommitting to fund their habits.


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