In Our Voices for Tuesday – February 07, 2006

Here it comes.

Another salvo in the battle for the heart and soul of the Kaua’i Police Department.

Yesterday, Police Chief K.C. Lum filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Honolulu claiming racism and civil rights violations to the tune of $1.2 million. The lawsuit minces no words naming Mayor Bryan Baptiste, Police Commissioner Leon Gonsalves and the Kaua’i County Council as participating in a campaign of illegal discrimination, harassment and denigration.

Mayor Baptiste, the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers (SHOPO), and the county council have all come out in recent weeks as harbingers of Lum’s downfall. Many have claimed that Lum has failed to close a rift that exists between the officers and the administration in the department due to his lack of management skills.

Statistics show, in his first year, Lum has decreased drug traffic and increased arrests and seizures of cash.

The people of Kaua’i have demanded such action from the police department. County officials want the departmental rift closed. Both are important issues to be addressed. However, the rift was here long before Lum accepted this position, and lately the vast amount of attention has been on those calling for the chief’s removal because of the existence of the rift as opposed to working with the chief to address what specifics make up the rift.

Why haven’t the crime statistics been discussed? Why has the chief not publicly defended himself?

We now know the chief is defending himself. The other question is a bit more difficult to answer.

Calls to The Garden Island have indicated the rift is perhaps being encouraged by a small group closer to the top end of the chain of command at the county, and within SHOPO, the union for the rank and file.

SHOPO officials recently declared at a police commission meeting on Jan. 27 that it would work with the police chief to close the rift. Later, in that same meeting, the police chief aired his retaliation complaint, in executive session, that was spelled out in yesterday’s lawsuit. Two days later SHOPO officials reversed their stance and said they wanted the chief out. The next day, Mayor Baptiste wanted Lum out.

One of the members of the police commission, Gonsalves, is named in Lum’s lawsuit for an October 2004 e-mail referring to the current chief as “Hop Sing.” Though Baptiste asked the county council to remove Gonsalves over that incident, the council never took action.

And now for some reason, the police union has aligned with the others for Lum’s removal.

Some among the rank and file believe that a very small core of officers and union officials within SHOPO are interested in getting rid of Lum. That core group has been the public face of the union’s stance on the police chief.

Some speculate that a large number of officers don’t feel the same way as this core group. Those who veer from the official line put out by the union have been waiting for Lum to defend himself.

There has been some speculation as well that Assistant Chief Clayton Arinaga’s dealings with the union have been more than chummy. Though Arinaga was a former chair of SHOPO in the mid-1990s, from the days when he was a rank-and file-officer, now that he is an assistant chief his participation in SHOPO may be viewed as suspect. If Arinaga as part of the administration, and an at-will employee of the county, is invited to the meetings, he is allowed to attend. Anything else is just not allowed.

Arinaga, remember, just filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the department and the chief for retaliation. In his lawsuit, Arinaga claims that an investigation into a 2000 incident involving the discharge of weapons and a large officer response, that was never reported, was in retaliation for his blowing the whistle on three vice officers over the misspending of a federal grant for training on Maui.

Lum says the information about Arinaga and the 2000 incident was provided by a private individual, and the county is beholden to investigate the incident. It is not a department investigation.

The ultimate decision as to whether Lum will be fired or asked to resign will be left to the police commission. The commission’s next meeting is on Feb. 24, where the commission will decide whether to act on the mayor’s letter asking for Lum’s removal. If the commission decides to act, they have to schedule a hearing and Lum has promised a contested case hearing.

Tonight’s SHOPO meeting may be quite revealing if the unspoken majority of officers, if it does exist, finds its voice and speaks up, bolstered by the recent actions of the police chief to finally make an effort to defend himself. The comments at the union meeting will not fall on deaf ears, as the president of SHOPO is scheduled to be there.

Kaua’i Chapter of SHOPO chairman Bryson Ponce feels there is a group of around 40 to 45 in the membership who are Lum supporters, but that the overwhelming majority of the membership of 120 has problems with Lum. Lum caters to the new guys Ponce says. He wants to get rid of the old guard.

Lum has said the old guard must go.

Change is hard to embrace, but change within the department just may be what’s needed.

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