Police chief, union mend fences

LIHU’E — Kaua’i Police Chief K.C. Lum and top officials with the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers (SHOPO) have agreed to end a rift that has divided the Kaua’i Police Department over the last 16 months.

During a Kaua’i Police Commission meeting at the historic County Building Friday, Lum and top officials with SHOPO agreed to work out their differences over issues like morale, communications and grievances.

“Chief, if you are committed to doing that, like you said you are, along with your staff, we will do whatever it takes to work to achieve those goals,” said Bryson Ponce, chairman of the Kaua’i chapter of the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers. “But we have got to be honest with each other.”

Lum said he was going to give it a go.

Although police commissioners have called for the building of better morale in the department for improved relationships between the rank and file and KPD management, the department has been hit by dissension since Lum took office in late 2004.

Critics contend he doesn’t have the experience or the skill to lead the department, doesn’t communicate with some officers and staff well enough and operates oblivious to collective-bargaining agreement conditions related to promotions.

Most recently, 90 of the more than 140 KPD officers reportedly said Lum had led the department poorly. In response, a growing number of officers, though small, have come out in support of Lum and in defiance of his critics.

As indicators of Lum’s success, those officers point to high productivity among officers and high arrest rates.

Ponce said the situation changed for the better for him on Jan. 20, when he met with Lum and Deputy Chief Harold Venneman and “we had a good heart-to-heart conversation about the real issues that are facing us.”

“It was for the first time really that the chief acknowledged we weren’t making these things up,” Ponce said. “The problems exist in the department.”

The placement of the issues on the police commission’s agenda Friday — responses by police brass, collective bargaining issues, internal investigations and morale and leadership issues in KPD — indicates the concerns of SHOPO KPD members are being heard, Ponce said.

The biggest challenge has been the lack of communication between Lum and many officers, Ponce said.

“And to move forward and to build on it (better communications) I think would be in the best interest of, not only the chief’s relations with the union, but with the members of the police department, with the police commission and the community,” Ponce said.

While KPD may be mired in problems, all involved should “focus on achieving the highest level of professional and quality (police) service to the island, the people of Kaua’i,” Ponce said.

Lum indicated through a slight nod that he looked forward to working with SHOPO in trying to rectify problems.

In his goals for the department this year, Lum said a top priority is “team building” programs employing the concepts of morale building, retention of officers, leadership, management development and improved communications.” On the issue of team building, Lum said, “we have to unify it, or we are going to be in trouble,” adding, “I want all the officers to understand that.” Lum said morale problems exist as a fact of life for every organization, not just with KPD.

“Every organization will have morale issues, regardless of where, what and what section,” Lum said.

Lum said morale building should be a “continuous process, so that will always be part of the department.”

On the recruitment of officers, KPD will be fighting an uphill battle because of Hawai’i’s low unemployment rate. He said it was about 2.9 percent the last time he checked.

Retention of officers is a way for the county to keep down training costs, he said.

Lum said he either, will, or has been, pushing for more training programs for supervisors, commanders and administrative staff.

“The training will improve management skills which will help team building efforts, by expanding the same knowledge base to all supervisory personnel,” Lum said. “And this will help with the succession planning continuum.”

On the issue of communication within the department, ideas have to be clearly articulated so that there will be no misunderstanding of what is being proposed, he said.

During the meeting, Ponce was flanked by Tenari Maafala, president of the board of directors of SHOPO, and KPD Lt. Roy Asher, vice chairman of the Kaua’i chapter of SHOPO.

Maafala said he wanted to see improved relationships between the 140-plus KPD SHOPO members and the KPD brass.

Maafala said his organization supports Ponce and the 25 or so officers who attended the meeting.

“And again, I echo the sentiment of Bryson with regards to chief Lum’s goals and intent to better the morale, better relationships within the department, albeit through the union or here at the police commission, or even through the mayor’s office,” Maafala said.

Maafala said a survey will go out soon to all SHOPO members on the issues of leadership and communications within the KPD.

  • Lester Chang, staff writer, can be reached at 2453681 (ext. 225) and lchang@ kauaipubco.com.
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