Ex-officers to get firearm certification

At least one Kaua‘i resident hopes the state’s soon-to-be implemented federal law to provide firearm certification to retired officers will be the impetus for creating a reserve police force.

Bill Kerbawy, a retired 17-year New York state court officer, has been rallying support from the county and state to apply a federal mandate allowing retired officers to qualify for carrying concealed weapons, under the Law Enforcement Officers’ Safety Act.

“This is the pinnacle we’ve been looking for,” Kerbawy said.

Those certified to carry would be required to have photo identification issued from the agency for which they worked and documentation proving they have met active-duty standards within the past year.

A statewide firearm certification program is slated to go into effect in May or June, according to the Hawai‘i Department of the Attorney General.

Under the federally mandated law, retired officers could become the volunteer “back-up” for the Kaua‘i Police Department, Kerbawy said.

“You’d have officers walking in plain clothes; trained observers who could call for backup or take immediate action by identifying themselves and taking action,” he said.

Kerbawy, a resident for four years, said his interest in an auxiliary police force is not self-serving, but rather intended to enhance the island’s emergency response preparation and to augment the Kaua‘i police force.

“I was at 9/11,” Kerbawy said. “We’re brothers of the shield.”

The state has been working toward adopting the LEOSA since November 2004, Christopher Young, Hawai‘i supervising deputy attorney general, said, a process lengthened, in part, due to a lack of federal help.

“We were really given no direction and no funding,” Young said.

The final steps in enacting LEOSA include soliciting bids for private firearms training companies to provide the certification. The state will zero in on a vendor within the next two months, Young said.

Though the measure will allow former law enforcement from the Mainland and Hawai‘i to carry, Young was clear that LEOSA does not entitle retired police officers to vigilantly take up arms.

“The Law Enforcement Officers’ Safety Act does not grant retired law enforcement power,” he said. “The only thing that act does is allow them to carry a firearm in 50 states. The fact that we are implementing that program doesn’t mean we’re doing it because were supporting an auxiliary police force.”

That decision would be up to the county, Young said.

“The discussion as to the merits of having an auxiliary police force was discussed previously,” Acting Police Chief Clayton Arinaga said in an e-mail. “The matter was linked to similar concerns and liability issues that would surface with trying to implement a reserve officer program.”

A way to solve that issue is self-coverage, said Kerbawy, who has had $1 million-worth of liability protection since he started working as an officer. He suggested members of the volunteer reserve force have their own liability protection.

“The county wouldn’t be paying us (a salary),” Kerbawy said. “If we had 50 officers and the liability for each cost $100, that’s $5,000 cost to the county. That’s a modest expense.”

Kerbawy said the pluses to combining years of expertise using retired police officers as backup would not only put more officers on the street, but also enrich the expertise and skill levels of recent academy graduates.

Such assistance could prove useful in situations ranging from hurricanes and terrorist attacks to drug busts, he said.

“When Hurricane Katrina hit, (New York) sent 65 units to New Orleans to help them in reestablishing order,” Kerbawy said. “God forbid we have a bomb on a cruise ship. I’ve seen what the face of God looks like — buildings crumbling, faces covered in ash — what are we going to be, reactive or proactive? ”

Until the statewide firearm certification program is implemented, Young said retired officers can apply for firearm certification from the state agency from which they retired.

• Amanda C. Gregg, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 252) or agregg@kauaipubco.com.

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