KPD officers show support for Chief Lum

LIHU’E — A handful of Kaua’i Police Department officers on Friday attended a special meeting of the Kaua’i Police Commission to voice their support for KPD Chief K.C. Lum, disputing criticism by what appears to be a majority of officers who claim he has led the department poorly.

“They will go out in front of the media and in front of the (Kaua’i Police) commission and do whatever they can to speak ill of the chief,” said one officer who asked not be identified.

The officer referenced comments made by a top Kaua’i official with the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers (SHOPO) that 90 KPD officers feel Lum has mis-managed the department.

The five or six officers presented a united front in support of Lum, during an open session of the Kaua’i Police Commission meeting that also included a closed, executive session where commission members discussed Lum’s job evaluation, and a request from Lum to hire an outside attorney.

Since the matter was discussed in executive session, it is not known why Lum is seeking outside representation. As a county employee, he is entitled to representation by lawyers in the Office of the County Attorney on certain matters.

The officers wanted to voice their support during the executive session on the premise that they didn’t want what they had to say to go public.

A majority of the commission members disagreed, and the officers were allowed to voice their concerns and support for Lum only during the open portion of the meeting.

The meeting comes at a time when some KPD officers are the subject of an investigation by agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and department leaders have been targeted for investigation by a special Kaua’i County Council committee for a cost overrun of $320,000 in overtime pay in fiscal years 2004-2005 and 2005-2006, pending lawsuits, and other matters.

The controversies have worked to erode the public’s trust of law enforcement on Kaua’i, county officials have said.

KPD’s situation is a sad state of affairs, said state Sen. Gary Hooser, D-Kaua’i-Ni’ihau. He has asked for an outside, credible investigation of the police department.

But Lum supporters say good things have come about during his reign: arrests are up, officers are reporting to work and are productive, and violent crimes are down.

During a break in the Police Commission meeting, an officer who asked not be identified said information SHOPO Kaua’i Chair Bryson Ponce offered at a government meeting last year on how KPD officers felt about Lum is “totally false” and is “fictitious.” Ponce said 90 of the 118 or so officers felt Lum was not doing a good job in leading the department.

“It wasn’t true at all,” the officer said. “There were 90 complaints filed by police officers.”

The officer said that “what he (Ponce) decided to do, is list every single complaint that he heard, whether (or not) it was directly related to the chief, or pertained to officer against officer.”

Contacted Friday, Ponce said he wasn’t going to argue his point.

Ponce said SHOPO will conduct either an official survey of Kaua’i SHOPO members, or a “vote-of-confidence” poll, about Lum, and the results will show what the officers really think about the chief.

“We will let the officers speak for themselves,” Ponce said.

Kaua’i County Councilman Mel Rapozo, who has publicly said he doesn’t think Lum is qualified to do the job, said he, too, is awaiting the results of some SHOPO survey that is to be done.

“I think it will say a lot as far as the men and women at the Kaua’i Police Department,” said Rapozo, a former KPD officer and detective.

He said some officers feel Lum is leading the department down the right path, but at the same time, other officers don’t.

“In my personal experience here on the council, as well as in the community, the picture I get from the majority of the officers who have approached me is overwhelmingly the department in dire need of some assistance in leadership and management,” Rapozo said.

He said members of the council, who set up members of the council body to investigate KPD and which funds the yearly budget of the KPD, is trying to help by “finding a solution that will help this community out.”

Ponce said the reference to 90 officers not being happy with the chief comes from contact with them.

Because my role as chairman is to represent 118 SHOPO members of the Kaua’i Police Department, I am the one who receives these complaints about the chief,” Ponce said.

“These officers (who have criticized his stand that a majority of the KPD officers aren’t happy with Lum and want a change), nobody is complaining to them. So where are they getting their facts?”

Ponce said the complaints he received were unsolicited.

Ponce said he has issues with KPD officers who criticize his conclusions about Lum but didn’t want to go on the record.

“As for myself, I am willing to always put my name on comments I make, even though other people might want to remain anonymous,” Ponce said.

Some of the officers at the meeting Friday said they didn’t want their names to be publicly used because they work as undercover officers.

In his estimation, one officer said more KPD officers support Lum than don’t support him.

“The problem is you have certain individuals that will go out in front of the media and in front of the (police) commission and do whatever they can to speak ill of the chief, and present themselves as representing the (majority) members of the department,” said the officer, who asked not to be named.

The reality, he said, is “they are looking at themselves and a select few.”

Another officer said Lum shouldn’t be can’t be blamed for cost overruns, because they happen in all police departments.

“If you look at the Honolulu Police Department, every year they go over their budget by thousands and thousands of dollars,” the officer said. “And that (going over the budget) is the only way in the following year, you can go back to the council (and ask for more funds to cover overtime).”

Lum has acknowledged the cost overrun in fiscal year 2004-2005, but never sought to get additional funds from members of the Kaua’i County Council to cover the overtime because he felt he had enough funds to cover overtime costs.

Lum also said the amount set aside in the KPD budget he had inherited from former KPD Chief George Freitas and Interim Chief Wilfred “Willy” Ihu wasn’t enough to cover the overruns any way.

For the KPD’s budget for fiscal year 2004-2005, Lum said his efforts to control costs were undercut by council members’ trimming KPD’s request for $1.5 million to cover overtime to $750,000.

Another officer praised Lum for making KPD promotions based upon merit, and criticized officers who “grumbled” for not being promoted or assigned to the beats or areas they wanted.

“The bottom line is that they are police officers, and that they shouldn’t be grumbling,” the officer said.

Another officer praised Freitas for making positive changes for the department, including improving the quality of firearms and equipment, and moving KPD more into the computer age.

Supporters said Lum has the capability to make more advancements that will help KPD become a better law-enforcement agency.

At the meeting, Kaua’i resident Richard Stauber said he likes Lum because he has an open-door policy, and that he personally has gotten satisfactory answers from Lum on his inquiries with Lum.

Kaua’i Police Commission Chairwoman Carol Furtado, who led her first meeting Friday, said she welcomed comments from the police officers, regardless of the forum in which they can be received.

“I really appreciate the officers coming out, who are willing to step forward and speak up whether it is for (Lum) or against (Lum),” Furtado said during a break in the meeting.

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