The American Civil Liberties Union will be keeping a watchful eye on Kaua‘i County’s police chief search, an attorney for the nonprofit group said yesterday.
Though the ACLU does not have plans to sue the county over its one-year Hawai‘i residency requirement for police chief candidates, its ears perked up when the search began.
“I think that while it’s important for residency to be a factor in the ultimate choice, it is unconstitutional to preclude all individuals outside of Hawai‘i from the opportunity of even applying,” said Lois Perrin, legal director of the ACLU Hawai‘i.
Though police commissioner Thomas Iannucci has said the county would benefit from a police chief who is familiar with local customs and culture, Perrin said the argument that candidates should be local from the get-go has been quashed in the Hawai‘i Supreme Court.
“I think there are all sorts of intangible factors regarding candidates,” Perrin said. “The fact that somebody who grew up in Po‘ipu and knows the local culture could be a plus. But just because someone is from California doesn’t mean they’re not bringing something to the table.”
“There is nothing in the law that would prohibit the factors of local candidates once you get a qualified pool. But this cuts the candidates off before they have the opportunity to even apply.”
The law in question has been interpreted by the County Attorney’s office to mean that a June 22 federal ruling — that Hawai‘i-residency requirements for government jobs are unconstitutional — doesn’t apply to department heads, namely, the future police chief.
The ruling, made by Federal Court Judge David Ezra, was in response to an ACLU class-action suit brought forth last year on behalf of disgruntled Mainland applicants who were not considered for Hawai‘i jobs.
“We brought the lawsuit on behalf of a number of non-residents who were rejected on the basis that they were not current residents,” Perrin said. “Nobody looked at their qualifications or resumes, so they were rejected solely based on non-residency.”
Ezra’s ruling found that state residency requirements violated the fundamental right to travel.
“People have a right to travel to other states and seek employment on an equal basis with residents of that state,” Perrin said.
Also at the heart of the ruling was concern that prohibiting Mainland applicants could prevent the state from hiring the strongest applicants, especially where public safety is concerned, Perrin said.
“It’s very ironic to me that the legislature in 2002 specifically exempted police officer applicants from this requirement because there was a shortage of qualified persons to fill public safety positions,” Perrin said. “Yet the county is insisting an interpretation of 78-1B in a way that flies in the face of this well-known shortage and specific legislative findings.”
Currently, the Kaua‘i Police Department has 35 vacancies.
The openings include 25 officer positions, eight civilian positions and two appointed positions: the chief and deputy chief, according to Mary Daubert, county spokeswoman.
Police Commission Chair Russell Grady said the county has hired California-based CPS Human Resource Services, a government agency, to pore through police-chief candidate resumes and verify them.
Members of the police commission have not decided how many candidates will be reviewed.
“(CPS) will do background checks and make sure the candidates are viable,” Grady said. “They will make sure they are who they say they are, that they have the credentials they say they have,” Grady said.
In the event that the police chief search would yield complaints from excluded Mainland residents, the ACLU would consider taking the county to court.
“It certainly is a case we’d take and it’s one I could see us easily winning,” Perrin said.
The next scheduled Police Commission meeting is Feb. 23.