KPD vacancies a bit misleading

Editor’s note: This is the first in a three-part series on the Kaua‘i Police Department. Part two continues tomorrow, concentrating on recent crime statistics.

LIHU‘E — The Kaua‘i Police Department currently has 23 officer vacancies, representing a 14.6-percent vacancy rate based upon its entire staff of 157 sworn officers.

But that number is a bit misleading, according to KPD Deputy Chief Ron Venneman.

It reflects the loss of KPD officers to injury and deployment to Iraq, and new positions that have been created but not filled, but does not include the six recruits who are due to join the department in October.

“No matter what vacancy level you’re at, the 10 primary beats still have to be enforced for daily operations,” Venneman said.

“It’s the perseverance of our officers and their dedication to the community that is driving crime down,” he said.

Venneman said the national average for police-department vacancies is about 10 percent. The inclusion of the six recruits and the subtraction of certain new positions not directly related to public safety (see vacant positions listed below) would bring the KPD’s vacancy rate closer to the national average.

Venneman said the KPD was in the same boat as a lot of other Kaua‘i businesses. With unemployment still below 3 percent, the KPD does not have a deep employment pool to dip into. Additionally, becoming a police officer carries a level of risk and stress that other entry-level jobs cannot match.

According to Venneman, the starting annual salary for a high-school graduate hired by the KPD is $37,572. After a year, the salary jumps to $40,572. Because of union agreements, these base wages are the same statewide.

In comparison, an entry-level Los Angeles Police Department officer with a GED (high-school-diploma equivalency) earns $51,114, with the potential to earn about $60,000 after 18 months.

Venneman, a veteran of the LAPD, said police work is police work regardless of the population of the venue.

“You’re vulnerable. You’re coming into contact with people at their worst,” he said.

The KPD also occasionally loses officers to the state Sheriff’s Department and the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

“We spend the money to train them, and then those departments get a proven product,” KPD Chief K.C. Lum said.

Venneman outlined the 23 vacancies:

There is an opening for an assistant chief and two lieutenant positions. There are 20 police-officer openings. There are seven vacancies in the patrol ranks, and two traffic officers needed. There are five openings in the Narcotics Enforcement Unit, new positions created in January.

There is an opening fro a D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) officer, and three middle-school resource officers, another new position, as are the Kaua‘i Police Activities League position, and a warrant-officer’s position.

Currently, three officers are deployed in Iraq, while four patrol officers are injured.

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