Police Chief Paul Ferreira said the department’s vacancy rate is a challenge that is “going to get worse before it gets better” during a Police Commission meeting Friday in Hilo.
He said there are 33 vacancies for sworn personnel out of 450 authorized positions.
Ferreira said that could get worse because the department has a high number of employees facing retirement while recruitment is falling short.
“The pool out there is very slim pickings,” he told the commissioners.
Ferreira told the Tribune-Herald the focus is on keeping enough officers on patrol, which is why the priority is on filling patrol positions rather than management vacancies.
“We’re still providing the same service,” Ferreira said. “We’re providing for enough officers on the street.”
In order to attract more recruits, he said he is asking county Human Resources to allow people to apply before they are 21. Currently, they must be at least that age, but he said that can force people right out of community college to wait a year.
Ferreira said he’d like the county to allow them to apply as long as they are 21 at the time they finish their training.
It’s also been a tough year for the department, with the Kilauea eruption straining resources and the shooting death of an officer.
Ferreira said he is proud of the work of his staff.
“They are the ones carrying the department through,” he said.
Assistant Chief Marshall Kanehailua told the commission the department has spent 112 percent of its budgeted overtime for the fiscal year that began July 1, mostly because of the eruption. He estimated it will be over 200 percent by the end of the budget cycle.
Kanehailua, who is retiring at the end of the month, also weighed in on the issue of salary inversion, when subordinates make more than the chief or deputy chief.
“No one is going to apply (for the top jobs) if they will make less,” he told the commission. “You can’t tell them to take on the responsibilities and make $25,000 to $30,000 less.”
The chief currently makes $153,270, while the deputy chief earns $145,968, according to Bill Brilhante, county Human Resources director. One subordinate makes $152,232, he said.
That issue routinely comes up as raises negotiated through collective bargaining agreements also affect the hourly pay for mid-level managers, who also earn overtime. Brilhante told the Tribune-Herald they are required by statute to get the same pay increases. That doesn’t apply to the top administrators, such as the chief and deputy chief.
The current contract with the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers includes 2 percent raises each year for the next two years, he said.
The commission voted 5-0 to recommend the county Salary Commission, which sets pay for administrators, resolves that going forward by requiring the deputy chief to make 5 percent more than the highest paid subordinate and the chief to be paid 10 percent more.
Ferreira said he doesn’t have anyone selected yet to replace Kanehailua but he plans to fill the position.
He said Kanehailua will leave a “huge void” behind after 28 years of service.
Email Tom Callis at email@example.com.