‘Continuous exodus’ of officers strains MPD | News, Sports, Jobs
Saying the Maui Police Department’s officer shortage has turned into a crisis, the union representing officers is calling on leaders to act “with a sense of urgency” to fill approximately 100 vacancies and retain experienced officers to prevent deterioration of policing service to the community.
“There has been a steady exodus of Maui police officers leaving the department through resignations, retirements and voluntary departures,” said MPD Sgt. Nick Krau, Chapter President of the Hawaii State Police Organization Maui Chapter Board of Directors. “The exodus has become so extreme that the Maui Police Department has lost 100 officers to authorized or budgeted positions.”
At the same time, he said Maui County’s population has grown 31% since 2001 to nearly 165,000 in 2020, according to US Census data.
At the end of last year, the MPD employed 299 officers and had 101 of its 400 authorized positions vacant for a vacancy rate of around 25%.
The shortage includes 54% fewer detectives, with 13 of the 28 budgeted positions, Krau said.
“This is the lowest level of police personnel in my 21-year career,” he said. “Without bold action now, our members will be forced to continue working up to 60 hours a week, service levels will deteriorate and investigations will take longer.”
MPD reported that 21 officers resigned and 13 retired last year, while the department hired 11 officers, for a net loss of 23 officers in 2021. Officers who retired had a combined total of 363 years of service with MPD, Police Affairs Administrator Melissa Magonigle said at a Police Commission meeting last month.
Eight officers retired in December, including Acting Chief Rickard, who had more than 34 years of service, and Deputy Chiefs John Jakubczak and Victor Ramos. Jakubczak, who had more than 34 years of service, and Ramos, who had more than 33 years of service, had been finalists for the position of police chief.
“The loss of experienced officers, whether to retirement, early retirement or resignation hurts our entire community,” said Krau. “These officers have years of community relationships that they have established and that we all rely on. They have the ability to mentor, train and inspire our new officers and we are seeing them leave at an alarming rate. This must stop immediately.
While the Honolulu Police Department is also struggling with an officer shortage, the Kauai and Hawaii County Police Departments have lower vacancy percentages.
In Kauai, 25 of 163 budgeted officer positions are unfilled for a 15% vacancy rate, according to SHOPO. The union said Hawaii County had 35 of its 470 officer positions unfilled for a vacancy rate of 7%.
Speaking at a January 4 meeting of the Maui County Council’s Government Relations, Ethics and Transparency Committee, Police Chief John Pelletier said the MPD mattered less for the first time. of 300 agents.
“The best way I can explain it is to cut out a quarter of your body and ask you to perform at the same level,” he said. “It’s like taking a sprinter and saying, ‘Hey, go run this race but we’re going to take your leg.’ “
Pelletier told the committee that the MPD lacks the manpower to issue citations under the county’s Social Hosts Ordinance that holds adult guests responsible for underage drinking in residences. “For us, increasing the role of the police department at this time is a big mistake,” he said. “There are other units or other areas of responsibility for that.”
Maui police spokeswoman Alana Pico said via email Thursday that the shortage “affects how we prioritize service calls.”
An administrative order issued Jan. 18 by Pelletier said officers in Wailuku, Lahaina and Kihei would not be assigned to respond to miscellaneous accidents, including bicycling accidents not involving motor vehicles, water accidents , falls, general injuries and severe burns.
“Currently, our staff are working harder and longer, so we are temporarily transferring staff from specialist units to patrols to maintain the health and well-being of our staff,” said Pico.
Krau said the union is concerned about the negative effects of the officer shortage.
“We are concerned that the current staffing crisis will lead to longer emergency response times,” he said. “This means the MPD no longer responds to certain calls for service such as ‘various accidents’ in our Patrol Districts of Wailuku, Kihei and Lahaina.
“Our officers could potentially end up waiting longer for backup during dangerous incidents, which puts the safety of our officers and the public at risk.”
Additionally, he said the officers’ personal lives were affected.
“The personnel crisis is having a huge personal impact on our officers,” said Krau. “Some patrollers worked the mandatory 60 hours a week. They were forced to work more hours and have fewer days off. It puts a strain on their family, has long-term negative effects on their health, and studies have confirmed that sleep deprivation has the same effect as excessive alcohol consumption. This is not a sustainable police staffing model that protects our community.
He said Wailuku patrollers had been working the mandatory 60-hour week for over a year.
“These shortages are causing employees to be overworked to the point of exhaustion, which is dangerous for our residents and detrimental to the health and safety of our officers,” said Krau.
In 2021, there were just 19 police recruits and only nine have successfully completed their training, Krau said. “The level of attrition far exceeds the number of new graduates from the academy,” he said.
Pico said the department had “created a new recruitment strategy” and plan to have “recruitment days” where candidates interested in sworn and civilian jobs can apply and attend question-and-answer sessions with current police employees.
“Eventually, in the future, we plan to hold recruitment workshops for candidates to go through the hiring process, such as written exam, physical agility, interview, etc.” she said in her email. “We are currently exploring various options for retaining staff and ways to reduce redundancy and improve efficiency.”
Krau said “Being a police officer is a very difficult job and it’s not for everyone.”
“So the question of recruitment is how do you find these people,” he said.
“There are many reasons why our staff shortage has reached this critical level and there is no one to blame for it,” said Krau. “We need to create a better working environment and better working conditions for our agents.
“Requiring officers to drive police vehicles that are over 10 years old and sometimes unreliable does not send a positive message. We have now been working without a contract for seven months, with our union doing its best to ensure that our agents receive the salary and benefits that will help them stay here while attracting qualified candidates. Over the past 20 years they have taken away pension benefits from our profession, making a career with MPD much less attractive.
Krau said “The staffing crisis must be handled with a sense of urgency.”
“Our community wants and deserves a highly trained and fully staffed professional police service,” he said. “Incentives must be provided to retain our experienced agents. Period. If we lose more officers, it will be impossible to hire enough new officers to replace those who leave, let alone make up for the 100 officers we have lost.
He said 25 “very experienced” police officers are eligible to retire by the end of this year.
“We absolutely cannot afford to lose another officer,” said Krau. “We are losing officers to other professions, to other law enforcement on the continent and to burnout.
“The professional development of our officers is also affected by these critical staffing shortages. A police department cannot run trainings if you are understaffed. The Department cannot safely remove individuals from their assignments and send them to various training and professional development courses. All of this has a negative impact on the development, morale and retention of our officers.
Krau noted that the Maui Fire Department only has a few vacancies. “Because they do a great job of retaining their firefighters.”
Following the retirement of 16 firefighters in December, the Maui Fire Department has 14 vacant firefighter positions.
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at [email protected]