In Our Voices for Thursday — April 20, 2006

We at The Garden Island hear complaints, concerns and frustrations from the public all the time. They come in the front door, by phone, fax, mail and e-mail. There has been a certain contingent of the island public lately expressing increasing levels of frustration. They are the rank-and-file-officers on the street with the Kaua’i Police Department. A large portion of the correspondence of late from the patrol officer contingent has remained anonymous citing fear of reprisals lest anyone find out the source of the frustration. And because we at the newspaper have a high threshold to reach before using anonymous sources in news stories, we’ve chosen this editorial as the venue to give voice to those anonymous police officers who have pride in their jobs and anxiously await a resolve to the current quagmire the department is in.

In keeping with the Police Commission’s theme of attaching television character names to those associated with the police department, we will combine all the voices into one character, “Joe Friday,” from the television series Dragnet. Apologies must be made for encapsulating all the different ethnicities that make up the police force here on Kaua’i into the single “Joe Friday” character who was a middleaged Caucasian male, but his no-nonsense “Just the facts, ma’am” approach, we feel, makes the epithet fit.

“A lot of officers are sick and tired of what’s going on,” Joe Friday said. “It’s hard to work in this environment.”

Three different chiefs in a few years and it has only gotten worse, Friday laments. “The whole situation has turned into a power struggle and we can’t go forward if this is going on.”

Friday said these days there is an increasing fear that if you align yourself with Lum, you’d better watch your back.

It wasn’t too long ago here at The Garden Island that the officers would brazenly stand up for the chief, stating that he was doing his job.

But the tide of that support appears to be turning. The writing on the wall, so to speak, is becoming quite clear — the problem is not with whomever fills the chief’s spot, but the leadership in place on the island. As that realization has set in, Friday said, many are jumping ship in their support of Lum as the water has reached the deck on his sinking vessel. “Frustration has really set in,” Friday said.

The State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers, the union representing the rank and file officer, came out against Lum publicly a couple months ago. Friday says the SHOPO effort to erode support for Lum began over a year ago. Police Commissioners Thomas Iannucci and Russell Grady have appeared at a SHOPO meeting at the invitation of SHOPO board member Bryson Ponce. Iannucci and Grady, who up until that meeting were uncertain how they would vote in matters concerning Lum, recently voted in favor of charging Lum with not doing his job at a police commission meeting.

Friday said that Ponce and Asst. Chief Clayton Arinaga have been seen together in several meetings. Arinaga, it may be remembered, is embroiled in a lawsuit against the department, the police chief and the County of Kaua’i, alleging retaliation under the state’s Whistleblowers’ Protection Act. Arinaga claims that he was retaliated against for reporting to chief Lum that three vice officers went to Maui last year for a training seminar, but did not attend any events.

Arinaga claims that Lum instituted adverse job actions, and was told by Lum that he was going to be investigated for an incident in 2000 that involved an extended family member who threatened to commit suicide where a weapon was discharged, but never reported. Ponce’s and Arinaga’s close ties have caused some speculation among the officers.

Now that the effort to remove Lum has moved to the County Council, Friday feels, it may only be a matter of time before Lum is gone. “Mel Rapozo hates Lum over what happened with Monica Alves,” Friday said, “And he wants to be in control of what happens with Lum.”

Rapozo, it is rumored, feels he took the fall for Lum over the “Midnight Express” scandal.

With Leon Gonsalves still sitting on the police commission and Rapozo on the council, and officials of the union against him, things don’t look good for the chief. The fact that an ethics investigation report on a police commissioner who resigned over it is being used to remove the chief is even more troubling.

With everything stacked against Lum, the rank and file has lost faith in Lum’s effort to lead, Friday said, echoing a charge leveled by the police commission recently. “He (Lum) is letting things happen in his department without responding to them,” Friday said.

Friday said that many of the officers feel they can’t wait for some of those in public office, both within the department and at the county level, to retire so that some fresh faces can come in and move the department forward. Many feel what they need now is a strong leader, in whatever form, to bring the department together.

Even with all of the turmoil, Friday said, “The department still, absolutely, has the ability to protect the public safety.”

“We do our jobs the best we can.”

The public perception of the force, Friday contends, is not that favorable right now. “It’s getting to the point where people are calling us corrupt … that’s what really affects me. All the mudslinging makes us look really bad in the public eye.”

“But we still do our jobs,” Friday said. “Our pride in our jobs has been hurt, but I wouldn’t say that it is gone.”

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