Task force to decide future of Sheriff’s Division

LIHU‘E — Gov. Neil Abercrombie on Monday signed a bill to create a task force to determine whether a new Department of the Sheriff is needed or feasible.

The task force will assess whether the Department of Public Safety is capable of supporting and maintaining the function of the Sheriff’s Division. The division is one of very few in the Unites States to operate as a statewide agency; it is comprised of three divisions, Administration, Corrections and Law Enforcement.

If the study determines that a separate department is feasible and essential, then it would create a plan and a process for implementation.

The bill’s committee record reflects early reservations from state Sen. Ron Kouchi, D-Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau. He said Tuesday that he felt the advocates on the conference committee got it right to elevate the Sheriff’s Division and all of its missions to the level of importance of the Department of Public Safety.

Kouchi said the initial draft of this task force bill presumed that a new sheriff’s department would be established, and the report was to focus on how to conduct the change. He agreed to a later version to produce a study with recommendations to the state Legislature on the best way to go forward — one way or the other.

“I had concerns but it is not a problem to gain information,” he said.

In a time of tight state budgets, Kouchi said it is not a good move to create a new department without showing absolute need. As for how a new sheriff’s division would affect Kaua‘i, the study will determine approaches to change, but he said the primary functions of deputy sheriffs would remain the same.

It is good to keep some functions at the state level, such as highways, hospitals and schools, Kouchi said, noting that as a small county, Kaua‘i typically benefits from services that it would not have been able to budget on its own.

“We have been fortunate with subsidized support,” Kouchi said. “Every citizen of this state deserves the same opportunity to an education and the right to health and public safety.”

The task force includes the sheriff as chair; the director of public safety; and representation from human resources development, finance, attorney general, administrator of courts, and the executive director of the Hawai‘i Government Employees Association. The leaders may choose an administrator’s designee in their absence.

State Rep. James Kunane Tokioka, D-15th District, said it is important to include collective bargaining on the task force, as they will have a lot of influence on any follow-up action that will all be started from scratch.

Tokioka serves on the House Finance Committee and said he voted for the bill because it won’t cost the state to conduct the study.

“I agreed to vote for that bill because it was a study and it is free, and on a volunteer basis to serve on this task force,” he said.

There were many amendments made in conference with this bill, and Tokioka said cost is a big factor in any decision. He said that with the right members on this task force it should produce a timely study that is due prior to the 2012 legislative session.

The state Department of Safety’s Law Enforcement Division is comprised of two departments: the Narcotics Enforcement Division and the Sheriff’s Division with an office located at the Halawa Correctional Facility on O‘ahu. The Sheriff’s Division has law enforcement officers to provide security for state government offices on the islands.

The Executive Protection Unit protects the governor and lieutenant governor. The Airport Sheriff Detail is in charge of law enforcement duties at Honolulu International. The K-9 Services Section searches for narcotics and explosives, and a Level III Swat Team is certified to respond to incidents on state property.

The sheriff’s deputies that serve in the Court Services Section function as administrators, bailiffs and court security. There are deputy corrections officers to guard inmates at court. The Capitol Section deputies patrol the State Capitol and other designated grounds.

The function of serving warrants throughout the islands falls on a separate DPS Special Operations Section. This DPS Court Services branch is a special plain clothes unit to serve felony traffic and arrest warrants. Individuals who are arrested are received for booking and detention at Intake Service Centers on Kaua‘i, Maui and Hawai‘i.

The other two state law enforcement agencies under DPS are with the Department of Land and Natural Resources and its Division of Conservation and Resource Enforcement. Other state-run law enforcement programs include the Sex Offender Management Team; Hawai‘i Paroling Authority; Crime Victim Compensation Commission; and Correctional Industries Advisory Committee.

The Kaua‘i County Police Department, based in Lihu‘e, provides patrols, an investigative unit, and substations for administrative and technical police work to all of the towns on the island. The KPD serves under the mayor and the Police Commission, a seven-person body appointed by the mayor and approved by the County Council.

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