A resolution asking for more police officers for Puna cleared the Hawaii County Council’s Public Safety Committee on Tuesday.
The request, which requires a vote by the full council to be adopted, was favored by each of the seven council members present.
“This is a piece of making Puna a little bit more safe and secure,” said Puna Councilman Matt Kanealii-Kleinfelder following the meeting. “It’s not going to fix everything, but it’s a start.”
Kanealii-Kleinfelder introduced the measure shortly before Mayor Harry Kim released his proposed budget, which includes funding for 10 more police positions in Puna and another 10 in Ka‘u.
The councilman said the resolution will help keep those positions a priority during the budgeting process.
As of last year, Puna had 1.3 officers per 1,000 residents — the lowest ratio on Hawaii Island.
“This is not safe for the community, it is not safe for our officers,” said Larkin Correia, a wife of a police officer, to the committee.
The measure comes less than a year since a Puna patrol officer, Bronson Kaliloa, was fatally shot during a traffic stop in Mountain View.
“I worry every time they are out in the field,” said a woman who works at the Pahoa police station.
“Bronson — that broke my heart,” she said, while holding back tears. “I just can’t. It’s hard to deal with at this point.”
Juergen Canda, a retired police officer, said fewer officers translates to higher crime rates.
“You never see any officers patrolling Puna because they can’t,” he said while highlighting call volume.
The stress of being understaffed also results in officers relocating out of the district, Canda said.
The committee heard emotional testimony from people opposed to the measure. That included people who said they had been mistreated by police and urged for better training, not just more officers.
“It’s not that we need more,” said Mary Alexander of Puna. “It’s we need pono police.”
When allocating positions to districts, Police Chief Paul Ferreira said after the meeting that there are several variables to consider, including population size, call volume and district size.
“Puna has a need,” he said. “That’s why we requested” more positions.
He said a district needs at least 13 officers to cover three shifts.
Ferreira said that’s why the sparsely populated North Hilo District, which has the minimum 13 officers, also has the highest rate of officers per 1,000 people, with 6.36.
Email Tom Callis at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Police officers per 1,000 residents (2018)
South Hilo — 1.62
Hamakua — 2.76
North Hilo — 6.36
Puna — 1.3
Kona — 1.65
South Kohala — 1.98
North Kohala — 2.53
Ka‘u — 2.83
Source: Hawaii Police Department