In Our Voices for Sunday — January 29, 2006

• KPD’s chain of command shattered


KPD’s chain of command shattered

The chain of command at the Kaua’i Police Department currently resembles a shattered system of separate links all seeking a new chain.

There are lawsuits pending, overtime settlements, a Kaua’i County Council investigation committee and a parade of officers appearing before the Police Commission both in support of and against Police Chief K.C. Lum.

The county council and the Police Commission have both heard testimony citing Lum’s management skills — or the lack thereof — as the cause of many of the problems.

Lum has said recently that his authority is being severely undermined by the smear tactics and that the reality of his administration illustrates his ability to manage. He cites statistics showing drug seizure increases and a reduction in other crimes. At Friday’s Police Commission meeting, it was revealed that the price for ice has doubled on the streets, a real-life sign indicating that the supply may be down.

The disintegration in the chain of command may be due in part to widespread ignorance of a policy that has been on the books since 1984. It basically states no employee of the KPD shall, without the knowledge and consent of the police chief, present, discuss, or act upon any matter pertaining to departmental business, practice or policy with any office, bureau, agency, board, commission, department, or any member of any of the above outside the police department.

That means if any member of the department were to go to some other agency to complain about administration problems at the KPD, that person or agency complained to should refer the complainee back to the originating body.

If administration complaints are taken up by others than those in the department, it can have a debilitating effect on authority and protocol at the KPD. But it may also be a strong indication of how bad things have become at the KPD that solutions are being sought elsewhere. The situation, of course, is too complex to be attributed to the one factor. But the department must be contained for the betterment of its service to the community and the health of the police as a whole.

Investigations like that being carried out by the County Council are permitted within the County Charter. Section 3.17 allows the council or any other authorized committee to conduct investigations of bodies like the KPD. The section states that investigations are allowed on any agency, county function or subject upon which the county may legislate.

The next section of the County Charter, 3.18, limits the council’s investigations to those that “shall not interfere with the administrative processes delegated to the mayor.”

One of the sticking points is understanding the duties deemed legislative versus the duties deemed administrative.

Part of the mayor’s administrative duties is to appoint the members of the Police Commission. The commission rules state that all administration matters within the KPD go back to the KPD. The commission is charged with hiring and firing the police chief.

Interpretation of the county charter appears to free the police chief from County Council investigations, while the department falls under the definition of allowable investigations.

A case that made its way to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2003, Kaahumanu v. County of Maui, went to great lengths to define administrative versus legislative duties. That case left the individual council members open to liability for making an administrative decision that they thought was legislative. The case found that “legislative immunity” did not apply to a decision on a conditional use permit. Because the court deemed the decision administrative, the legislative body was liable for monetary damages to the individual who had applied for the conditional use permit.

Where that case’s definition fits in to the current situation on Kaua’i is to help delineate the system of checks and balances that county charters, and state and federal law, defines.

At the base of the rumor, hearsay and speculation swirling about in regards to the KPD, there is a foundation of law open to interpretation in the courts that allows all individuals the ability to cry foul. Where those who cry foul go is left to the more localized bodies to define. And those on Kaua’i are currently going outside their department to cry foul.

With the recent SHOPO/Lum lovefest, lets hope it marks a point where those at the KPD will allow the administrative duties of the department to come back under the umbrella of the KPD and in part help stop this erosion of the police department on Kaua’i.

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